Outrageous Is Contagious
Re-heated controversy keeps the football media cycle spinning. Today on the blog Adam Hurrey from Football Cliches sets his focus on the fatiguing phenomenom of predictable outrage in the modern era of football media and fanhood.
Football is boring.
The actual football, that is. What keeps the billion-pound TV deals rolling in, though, is controversy. Outrage. "Unedifying scenes". All the things that "you", sitting in "the pub", talk about with "your mates" after "the big game". But football is no longer a game of opinions - it's a game of pummeling other people's opinions into submission in the godforsaken pits of hell that are the comments sections of football websites.
The molecular tactical analysis of Zonal Marking, or even the more elementary, graphics-laden tutorials from Gary Neville, may not be to some people's tastes. And for these people, football offers up a carousel of talking points, each referred to as "rearing its ugly head" whenever it should claim a few headlines. The "ugly heads" of modern football include (but are not limited to):
•Imaginary card-waving - almost too preposterous a concept to say out loud, let alone get angry about, the waving of imaginary cards was an unwelcome by-product of the Foreign Influx™ to these shores. Before 1992, we made do with simply asking the referee to book an opponent - which is fine, apparently.
•Diving - specifically, diving to the extent where a player's "reputation goes before him". This can only happen once he has been "branded" a diver, and not before.
•Two-footed tackles - one of those things (like "raising your hands") that represent "asking for trouble" in football. The debate is unhelpfully spiced up by the mention of "studs showing", when it's evidently thirteen stone of prime, airborne central-midfielder that does the damage.
•Handshakegates - the pre-match handshakes are now reduced to a handful of Heat magazine moments each season where Pantomime Villain X refuses to complete gestural formalities with Pantomime Villain Y. Coverage of such drama now extends to the days leading up to the match as well as afterwards, taking up precious column inches that could be used for reporting on the waving of imaginary cards.
•Goal-line technology - simply referred to by pundits as "technology", the catch-all term for the answer to all football's ills. It can't come soon enough, not because of the assistance it will provide the match officials, but because we will be spared the weekly episode of CSI: Salford as the Match of the Day team search desperately for the definitive goal-line proof. Finally, someone has to point out that none of this will help the referee who made a split-second decision in the first place, while not quite grasping that the desperation to unearth The Truth makes the existing job of the officials even harder.
These cyclical debates exist to keep Sky Sports News presenters in gainful employment, while just about managing to keep Football Focus on the air as it dissects the big issues (with the bluntest of knives) almost a week after everybody else has chewed them over and spat them out. Not that anyone should spit, of course, because we'd all rather be punched in the face than be spat at.
Another clockwork catalyst for the ire of the controversy-hungry hordes is the FIFA rankings. Updated monthly to demonstrate the current standing of the 209 member nations, the rankings are used to determine seedings for major tournaments, but otherwise exist to provoke people who can't be bothered to read how they are calculated. "How are England fifth?!" they screech (the same people who react to five minutes of injury time as if it's a Hitchcockian plot twist), without stopping to weigh up whether it actually matters or not.
The true magnitude of a football controversy can be measured by the number of pale imitations the media can dredge up to flog the dead horse even further. Witness the outrage-by-numbers that met Ryan Bertrand's Twitter tirade, coming as it did so soon after Ashley Cole's infamous hashtaggery, before most of us came to our senses and realised it wasn't even remotely offensive. But not before Bertrand had to issue one of those half-hearted apologies, which in turn caused a pathetic ripple of newsworthiness in itself.
The sheer awe that footballers can generate leads a certain kind of fan to odd extremes of behaviour. On Twitter, these easily-pleased/offended usernames are identifiable by a simple formula:
abbreviation of first name + initials/nickname of team they support + year they were born.
And so DazMUFC83, GazCFC_79 or GoonerShaz81xx will be found, either typing in abuse with their sausage fingers or (even worse) begging for a retweet from their favourite player. Back in the real world, booing - a centuries-old method of voicing one's displeasure (but not derision, which comes via "howls") - has somehow remained a stalwart of the modern fan's weaponry of outrage. There's no doubt that booing sounds rather effective when tens of thousands of people are doing it but, if you really think about it, the idea of a grown-up shouting "booooooooooooo!" is just ridiculous.
There is a flipside to all this vitriol, however. Amidst all the bitterness and tribalism, footballs fans are also quite easily charmed. Any brief glimpse of sportsmanship or compassion is met with the earnest congratulation of "nice touch" or, for extra-special moments, "classy touch". Everyone still applauds the ball being kicked back after an injury (although I strongly suspect this is now just a reflex) because, secretly, football loves being nice. It loves it so much that, when faced with unifying incidents such as Fabrice Muamba's collapse, we're queuing up to pat each other on the back for being so thoroughly decent.
The post-Olympic soul-searching that football briefly undertook has been forgotten already - which is a good thing, because no-one really cares about The Bigger Picture, do they? The bare-minimum displays of occasional humanity simply serve to prove themselves as exceptions to the ugly rule.
Yours in anger,
Follow Adam on Twitter: @FootballCliches
Read more of Adam's work on his blog Football Cliches