'...what kind of sick and twisted impulse would cause a professional sportswriter to deliver a sermon from the Book of Revelations off his hotel balcony on the dawn of Super Sunday?'
- Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl
‘Jesus, I’ve been stuck in this breeze block disaster on the edge of Oxford for a day now, with this goddamn blog editor busting my balls for 500 words. On football for crissakes. Non-league football. ‘Holiday Inn’ my goddamn ass.
For reasons I’d rather not go into right now, these 500 words are going to need to get written tonight, and my expenses have been spent in the pitiful excuse for a bar downstairs, getting angrier and angrier. Now I’m staring out at the soft orange light that’s trying to suffuse the three-sided hulk across the car park from my window. By my side is the three-quarter drunk remnants of what I could prise from the barman, and I’m thinking that I can’t be here at the weekend for this game.
How did this football club get into this mess? Non-league football is mostly terrible, we know this, but if the appeal isn’t the ‘football’ of FC, it’s meant to be about the ‘club’ part – something bigger than eleven men on a pitch. That’s what this swine of an editor tells me he wants. The things that keep supporters following their team if they’re not paying to watch eleven ball wizards break the laws of physics in a premier electric-superdome. I should have a story here about terrace camaraderie, about the players who grew up watching from the stands the team that they now play for. But I’m just getting depressed here. Depressed and angry.
This outpost of sport has the worst of both worlds. Tomorrow, two teams of footballers who never made it or probably never will (honest journeymen and local young hopefuls these notes say), will compete. But where’s the experience of football at its simplest? Where are these Halcyon Days? I’ve seen tapes of these televised games: Games played on Friday nights, Sunday afternoons – Jesus - Thursday nights? Players can’t put their asses on the substitutes bench without being interviewed. Kick-offs timed to accommodate stunts involving giant foam square creatures. Second-rate presenters, exuding the violent mix of failed dreams and desperate eagerness, trying to imitate the vacuousness that has been perfected in that bubble of self-reference, the Premiership. The Barclays Premier League, if you please, that’s if Barclays hasn’t been swallowed in the howling vortex that has finally caught up with those bastards in Wall Street (but you know for a fact that the Premier League boards will survive this, as they would probably survive any catastrophic collapse of the ozone layer or nuclear strike that might occur too).
But that’s not what I wanted to write about. What I wanted to say, was that all the time this swill is broadcast, the non-league grounds are half-empty as the option of watching this charade is less painful when you don’t have to move from your sofa. Non-league football has sold what it offered for a pat on the head, a chance to pretend it’s not what it is, and it’s been left with the worst of both worlds. The football is still non-league, still left trying to make up for what it lacks in skill with earnest effort, but fixtures are moved on a whim, driven by the hollow spirit of commercialism which watches over proceedings. The bloodshot eye of the television camera leaches those poor dingbats who are at the games: ‘Look how much this means to them. Look at their innocent joy. Look at the depths of their despair. It’s not even caused by anything important, like Manchester United beating West Brom. We will broadcast this for you! The viewer!’
So I’m not doing this. I need to be on a beach, trying to recover from this trip. Well, that and the fact that I’ve an appointment at a particular Jamaican drinking establishment in town, a place where all this trouble began. Ah… but that is another story, and we don’t have time for it here, so I’m giving that bastard editor these words and he can do what the hell he likes with them.’
[Ed.: Well, it might not be the only reason, but T.V. is one of the reasons why less than ten percent of our county actually goes to an Oxford United game.]