Flint's Off on One

Football isn’t football anymore. Sure, we believe it is to an extent, and yes, a ball still rolls around the pitch, but this product is a commodity more than a sport nowadays. I fully accept that change is inevitable and is not always a bad thing. The rampant racism and hooliganism, not to mention those pornographically-tight shorts, from the late 1970s are particularly welcome omissions. I defy anyone to not scream in agony at the sight of last night’s blockbuster production on Sky Sports News though. It’s not the TV company’s sickly concoction of enforced drama and hype that has got my goat this week though; it’s the idiots who fuel this situation in the first place.

Social media is in many ways a wonderful thing. It has opened up boundless potential for sharing knowledge and creating entire careers that would otherwise have been out of reach, myself included. Ten years ago I ran a very informal blog via Facebook following the fortunes of SPAL (one of those newly-promoted Serie A sides you’ve never heard of) and I still keep in touch with people I made contact with on that platform. Twitter put me in touch with four of my current bosses, and even earned me two live TV appearances.

Everyone has a thirst for information in no matter what walk of life, but that thirst can lead to a craved insanity. Madness is said to be defined by trying the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. In that case, the 90% of football fans ought to be sectioned. Every summer, hopes of something meaningful and dramatic happening on Deadline Day© are spewed forth across every screen imaginable, and the same let-down happens.

The Daily Express shoved a picture of José Mourinho talking on his phone in our faces and screamed, “What could this mean??” Now as pathetically vacuous as that journalism is, don’t lay all the blame with the paper. Theirs is a supply-and-demand business; their primary job is to sell copies and generate online traffic, which by and large, they succeeded in doing. The main reason media sources spout such utter garbage is that it is lapped up by the moronic masses trying to elbow their way to the front of the information queue. These millions of imbeciles who ravenously quench their lust for being the first ITK (In The Know, for you cool cats out there) are the scourge of football coverage.

I remember Saturday mornings watching early kickoffs with a couple of weekend papers to pour through while wolfing down satisfying portions of pub grub. My mates and I would chat about the latest news while reading the back pages, and watch as our 10-way accumulators would come tantalisingly close. We all knew about the same information, and were on a level playing field – not that there even was a playing field in the first place. It wasn’t a battle to be first with a snippet of irrelevance; it was simply a few blokes sharing a few opinions.

Now, everyone has to be the account to follow, racking up those all-important follows, retweets and shares. I cry with laughter and demeaning pity at the sheer volume of people who, for some bizarre reason, feel the need to regurgitate news that someone else has already broadcast in the vain hope that they will gain some twisted form of respect. Let’s be clear at this point; those whose job it is to cover a league or the window in general are just doing their job. It’s the Facebook accounts that throw out news as if it is theirs, and engage in conversations from some ivory tower, that need culling. Actually, even that’s not quite fair. Like the media outlets creating a frenzy over Mourinho on the phone, these Facebook folk only bother because there are so many frankly stupid cretins who latch onto this tosh being vomited forth.

I swear for the overwhelming majority of folk now it matters more to be the one who ‘breaks’ the news than to actually see their team win. Look at the lunacy of comedy channels like ArsenalFanTV (and they are far from the only ones); some illiterate prats spit out as many street slang words as possible without an ounce of thought or reasoning. Is this really what football has come to, a toddler-esque demand for instant gratification that has become so warped it doesn’t even resemble the sport itself?

Gratification matters. It is a dangerously powerful motivator however, that if left unchecked, can transform people into monsters. While studying at the University of Leeds, I took in a match between Blyth Spartans and Harrogate Town having never seen either before. I had no emotional connection to either side, and had never heard of any of the players. But when Phil Bell scored the winner in front of us, I joined the dozen or so Blyth fans in mobbing him in pure adulation. Perhaps some would see it is misappropriation of emotions, but it was natural, and it was memorable.

Utter bellends that are successful only in gorging themselves on ticks and followers will never truly feel the joy of ruffling Phil Bell’s hair. Nor could they ever appreciate the crackling electricity that cut through the air as David Beckham shimmied majestically through half the Real Madrid team and smashed in a sensational goal to give United hope in an ultimately futile defeat.

To borrow from the infinite wisdom of Irving Blitzer, if you’re not enough without being an ITK, you’ll never be enough as one.