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Friday, 21 June 2013

Love the Game, Hate the Business

A first hand look at how Wednesday's protest against modern football descended.

A guest post from:


I descended on London on the train from Norwich not only because I verge into the realms of being so far Left it’s comical, but because I felt like I had to represent the team that I love in what may or may not be an historic landmark in the fight against ‘modern football’. I’d even invited my girlfriend to come with me to make a day of it in case Spirit of Shankly’s march on Premier League HQ became a total washout in terms of attendance. As I made my way to The Globe to meet up with the rest of the fans attending, a huge Arsenal banner denouncing the greed of the modern game that greeted me made me even more apprehensive about the day ahead from a lilywhite perspective.  But as the pub slowly began to fill up (admittedly with a Scouse majority) more and more Spurs boys came. My girlfriend, self-admittedly clueless on all things football, not only remarked on how many people had actually turned up, but how many supporters of different teams, some of them bitter rivals, were happily sharing a pub and displaying their own banners without fear of trouble. What she had seen on TV of fans fighting was nowhere to be seen. Spurs fans were next to Arsenal fans, Liverpool fans were next to United; the pub didn’t have a tense, pre-game atmosphere at all. Instead of fans talking about X player being shite or Y player being a wanker, I overheard debates, most of which cross partisan, on regulation of prices and the mistreatment of the working classes. Was this all some sort of dream? 

Banners warning that “if you tolerate this then your children will be next” and that the ‘fat cats’ have stolen football from the ordinary fan brilliantly summed up the mood of the day; we were fans of teams from Crewe to United, from Everton to Leicester, all here united not by one club but by a sense of duty on behalf of all fans, to stop the violent commercialisation of the sport. Spurs’ main banner put this sentiment into words perfectly; ‘Love the game, hate the business’. We wanted our football back and we were going to march on the Premier League to get answers. There was certainly an aura about the whole event as fans all marched towards Prem HQ. We set off to the backdrop of a smoke bomb, all chanting. But we weren’t chanting about our team being the greatest the world has ever seen, or that we will be in eternal combat with a neighbouring club’s fans purely because of Boxing Day. We were all chanting and singing in unison:

‘They don’t care about football, they don’t care about fans, all they care about is money and brands!”.

As we made our way down the busy London streets, the agreed nature of a ‘pavement only’ protest soon went out the window. We moved our banners into the road and dodged passing busses, taxis and cars as we made our way to our destination unperturbed. My girlfriend, who had been quiet and a bit miffed by what was going on (even though she agreed with the idea of ‘sticking it to the man’) soon fully immersed herself in the occasion; shouting, holding up banners and sticking STAND stickers onto bus drivers! This was a testament to the passion and commitment shown by the protestors, and it was infectious.  As we arrived at Gloucester Place, sympathisers on the streets showed their support even though we held up traffic with our sheer numbers. Tourists on open top busses would cheer and wave, van and taxi drivers tooted their horns in solidarity. The most interesting part was that the Bentleys and Jags with tinted windows always quietly drove past, without even acknowledging we were there. This was rapidly turning from a footballing issue to a class issue.  As we ‘sat down’ because we ‘love football’ in the middle of the road to stop traffic and increase our exposure, fan representatives were meeting with the so-called ‘fat cats’ to air their grievances against the state of pricing and expenses for the ordinary fan, the rest of us waited outside for anyone to come out of the imposing black door and give some sort of statement. Chants eventually stopped after about an hour, and we reverted back to just talking to each other and holding up banners. A police officer even came over to talk to us. He explained that he was a die-hard West Ham fan and then asked whether we would be protesting again, saying tongue in cheek that he would get more work out of it. He repeatedly expressed that he fully sympathized with what we were doing and that he himself was ‘against modern football’. In the current climate of police ‘bubbles’ escorting fans to games and the whole issue of the criminalisation of the ordinary supporter, this was a refreshing image of the police officer and the supporter together.  

The camaraderie was a testament to the ethos of the day because we were all fans united under one cause. Whilst we still had our differences, we were able to put these behind us for one day to protest against something that affected every single one of us. We still didn’t exactly like each other, but we were amicable (even if sticking Spurs stickers on Arsenal fans became the game of the day).  I came to London thinking that we would all conform to our ‘tribal’ stereotypes and remain segregated. But there I was, talking to a man in leopard print flares and a studded jacket with “DULWICH HAMLET” painted on the back. As surreal as this was, it was refreshing to be able to talk to fans from other teams without being seen as weak by fellow supporters. Even the police were friendly and were polite to us (even if they burst our beach balls).  Fans brandishing megaphones (that gave more feedback than the league ever would) encouraged us all to keep on chanting, and although this eventually descended into “OOO BUBBLES” when we got to West Ham, every team that was represented there felt part of the protest as a whole. Everyone was approachable and would be happy to have a conversation ‘I’ve always liked Spurs’ was a recurring statement from fans outside of London. This is the polar opposite to how fans would behave towards each other on a match day, thus showing how pressing an issue this is.

What came out of today in terms of a response from the league was not exactly ideal, but encouraging all the same. The fact that they acknowledged our protest by speaking to representatives is encouraging; as is the stress on ‘stretch pricing’ where corporate fans should really be paying through the teeth for the boxes so normal tickets can be cheaper. But there seems to be no real call for regulation. Regulated or capped prices would fit into the mould of financial fair play. As the organisers kept stressing, the protest was not a one-time thing. This is just the start of increased dialogue between the fan and the executive, hopefully something that will bring about a change for the better in terms of both attendance at games, atmosphere and pricing.  The relaunch of the Tottenham Supporters’ Trust is a blessing; it means we now have a body in which to voice our concerns towards the club in a legitimate manner rather than any attempt at a boycott would [a boycott, in my opinion, would never ever work. You’ll always get football tourists in to fill seats if needs be…].  Joint Chairman of the Trust Darren Alexander was one of the delegates invited into Prem HQ to discuss pricing. This can only be seen as a step forward in making football more affordable for everyone. What struck me most out of the day was how detached we were from what subscription TV channels paint fans. We didn’t fight each other, we didn’t swallow whatever Murdoch-ed information we were given. We stood up for ourselves. The amount of press coverage we had is also a good sign. It means that the press see this as an important enough occasion to give time and space in their rags towards, rather than this just another protest by utopian hooligans demanding the impossible. Whoever couldn’t make the march should just take away the title Spirit of Shankly gave to it; the great Jock Stein quote, “Football Without Fans Is Nothing”. When fans, clubs and the media truly believe this statement, maybe the monster that is ‘calcio moderno’ will be tamed. This is just the beginning.

A guest post by: @liamknight

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