Happy New Year everyone.
And welcome to 2011 – the future! Well, I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve, so it’s the future for me. How does it feel to be in 2011? Different? I bet not. It’s like when you turn 18 or 21 and people say “How does it feel?” You don’t feel different at all really. Just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean things will suddenly get better. Barack Obama won’t suddenly bring prosperity to the world, the Coalition government won’t start work on their Death Star, and Neil Lennon won’t realise it’s better not to be a petulant man-boy.
To make things feel like they’re changing, many people make New Year’s Resolutions. They get a few things they decide they can improve on for the next year. I, myself, haven’t made any resolutions for about three years. When I was younger, I’d make a resolution work until about the summer. Then as I got older, things got worse and worse until my resolutions didn’t even make it past January.
This year, however, I’ve decided to give it a go, with five football-related New Year’s Resolutions. And I will lay them out here for your perusal. You can even use them yourselves! Enjoy!
1. Go to More Matches
I am a lifelong Aberdeen fan but only manage to go to a couple of games a year. You see, I work on a Saturday. I haven’t seen Aberdeen play on a Saturday for over three years. In all of 2010, I attended two Aberdeen matches, both of which were mid-week cup games. And as much as I know it can’t be helped, it always niggles at me that I should be doing so much more to support the Dons. My Dons. So I resolve to go to more games in 2011. Even if I only manage three, that’s still one more than 2011.
As for my English team, Manchester United, I have never seen them in person. I visited Old Trafford in the summer of 2010 on my drive home from Wolverhampton, and I bought a few things in the shop. But I’ve never properly been inside the stadium. That will change on the 19th March 2011, when myself and my friend Ian are travelling down to see Man Utd vs Bolton. We’re sitting in the VIP executive section. Well, if you’re going to your first Premiership match, why not go all out, eh? (Prawn Sandwiches and all? – Ed.)
It’s true, with TV highlights, one might argue that you don’t need to attend the matches. However, that leads down a dangerous path and one that I have already meandered down. I’m not referring to dwindling attendances leading to poor club finances, etc, that’s too big, I’m keeping this personal. With Man Utd, it’s easy. Even if I know they’ve lost, I’ll still watch Match of the Day, because I know it’ll have been an entertaining match. But with Aberdeen, it’s much harder to bring myself to watch a losing performance. In 2010, there’s no other word for it, Aberdeen were dire. I have the Sky Sports Football Score Centre app on my phone, so when I am working, I can still keep up-to-date with the scores. But when Aberdeen lose, unless there’s a talking point, a lot of the time I skip watching that week’s highlights. You’re just shown five minutes of Aberdeen’s worst points. It can become soul-destroying. But in person, it’s different. You’re part of a community and even if you lose, you’re there with thousands of other people who share your feelings.
Football is much better viewed in a crowd.
2. Stop Blaming Referees
2010 was a year dominated by controversy surrounding referees. In the World Cup, you had Frank Lampard’s goal-that-never-was and Argentina’s offside goal being shown to the stadium but ignored by the officials. In Scotland, there was the fury over Dougie McDonald, followed by the strike action because of clubs’ treatment of referees (thanks Neil Lennon and Mark McGhee). In England too, they’re never short of a moan or two about officials.
I’m going to come out and say it. Referees are not biased. There is no conspiracy. There is no cheating. They are simply men doing a very tough job.
Obviously, I know there are some referees who are cheats, I’m thinking in particular of the 2006 Italian scandal. But to say that all referees are cheats is just like saying all Americans are stupid and priests are paedophiles. As amusing as it may be to say sometimes, it’s paranoid and simply not based in fact – so it’s surprising that the Daily Mail doesn’t have a story about it every week.
It is all very well for three men sitting in a television studio to replay an incident five times, with different camera angles, and for everyone at home to see this. But a referee doesn’t have that luxury. They have to make on-the-spot decisions using only their eyes, and those of their assistants. If and when FIFA allow technology to be used to assist officials, then you can criticise a referee for getting a decision wrong, because he’ll have ignored the tools at his disposal. But a referee wrongly awarding a decision is no different from a player missing a penalty. Neither of them are cheats, they simply made a mistake.
Several years ago, I met former SPL referee Alan Freeland (who was active at the time, he retired in 2008). I was friends with his daughter. He, however, was not a pleasant man. I have no problems saying that. But I still had great respect for him, as I do for all referees. They have got the courage to go into the public eye and be the only things stopping the bunch of petulant pampered primadonna prats that we call players from getting their own way.
I salute them.
3. Escape into a Virtual World
Over the past fifteen years, video games / computer games, whatever you want to call them, have become much more socially acceptable. This has been of enormous benefit to football fans, who have had the freedom to act out what they wish their clubs could be like. Two particular games come to mind – EA Sports’ FIFA series and SI Games’ Football Manager series. Both allow you to recreate reality as you see fit for the benefit of your team. It is the perfect form of escapism from the horror of what is really happening to your football team.
As an Aberdeen fan, what a joy it is to go onto Football Manager, add a second player as Manchester City boss, buy Darren Mackie for £200,000,000 and splash the cash to become the best team in Scotland. Or two add a third player as Rangers boss, and purposefully lose every game to get them relegated. You can lose days!
Both developers have embraced the new world of social networking. FIFA 11 now has leaderboards on the menu screen, so you can see how your stats compare to those of your friends and Football Manager 2011 now lets you upload your accomplishments on Twitter. The perfect way to show how good you’d be if you were a real manager…allegedly…
But it was only on the 27th December 2010 when I realised what a phenomenon Football Manager had become. A few weeks before, I started a new game as Bolton manager. I ended my first season in 6th place (missing out on a Europa League place because the winners of the League Cup and FA Cup were lower than me in the league) and having an impressive run to the semi-final of the FA Cup. Then in February 2012, I found myself in 5th place, one point behind 4th place Everton, with a League Cup final against Wigan on the way. And then it happened. Chelsea sacked Carlo Ancelotti and offered me the job. Chelsea were in 6th place, knocked out of the League Cup, knocked out of the FA Cup, but into the latter stages of the Europa League. I weighed up the pros and cons. At Bolton I had a transfer budget of £10million, after having bought Luis Suarez as soon as I got the job.
While Chelsea were offering me a budget of £120million. Jokingly, I put my dilemma up on Facebook. I didn’t expect, however, to get sixteen comments. People of all ages, from 16 to 48 told me not to “sell out”, to “be loyal” and “become a club legend”. I never expected such a response about my fictional career in a computer game. It was incredible.
I took the job.
4. Stop Caring about Footballers’ Private Lives
In 2010, people found out what footballers were really like behind closed doors. And when I say people, I mean the idiots who didn’t already have a pretty solid idea. Come on, we’re talking about the world’s stupidest millionaires who get paid a fortune to punt a sphere around a lawn. These men are not and should never be thought of as being role models. Look at the effect they have on the youth of today. For boys… Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that sport is important. But I can’t help feeling that if young people spent a bit more time studying and less time kicking a ball against a wall with the forlorn hope that they might be the next big football superstar, the world wouldn’t be going to hell in a handcart. And it is.
I know it might sound strange, someone writing on a football website that kids should study not play football, but no one can deny the negative effect that football has on a lot of our nation’s youth. You want proof? Get Wayne Rooney’s academic qualifications.
For girls… I remember a time when girls wanted to grow up to be doctors, nurses, lawyers. And I’m not old, I’m only 22, so it’s a recent thing. It’s infinitely depressing that, because footballers live such extravagant lifestyles, it is now seen as an achievement for a girl to marry a footballer. “What do you want to do when you grow up?” “Marry a footballer.” “Which one?” “Don’t care. I’ll be that much of a slag.” And if you do, that’s enough to publish an autobiography! Footballers are not interesting people, so wanting to be a WAG (unless you were famous for your talent first, like Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole) makes one even more pathetic. At least Big Brother contestants stand on their own merits. (Disclaimer: That section about girls is partly taken from comedian Ed Byrne. But since I agree with him 100% and have said similar things for years, I feel justified in using it. He won’t mind. I’ve met him. Nice guy.)
Yes, 2010 saw several footballers found out for what they really are. Wayne Rooney was joined by fellow England stars Ashley Cole, John Terry and Peter Crouch for being outed as cheating rats. We heard about Ashley Cole’s penchant for photography, much to the dismay of wife Cheryl. We found out that John Terry played away with former team-mate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend (allegedly). And, most upsetting of all, we learned that Peter Crouch wasn’t immune to the charms of a Spanish prostitute.
This was Peter Crouch, the man voted as being the funniest British sporting personality ever. The man that many would say is the smartest and wittiest footballer playing today. When asked in 2007 what he would be if he wasn’t a footballer, he said “A virgin” and our arms opened wide. He was a hero. When he started dating model Abby Clancy, he must have looked to the heavens (something that’s easier for him than most of us) and said thank you. But he got too big for his boots. He cheated. We sighed.
As for Rooney. He dominated the news in 2010. We were told about his rendezvous with prostitutes and he showed little remorse. He played worse than ever before at the World Cup, and then criticised the England fans for booing. His apology wasn’t genuine. He then shocked the world by announcing he would leave Manchester United, before performing a spectacular U-turn when he was offered £250,000 a week – that’s £12million a year. The speculation being that this multi-millionaire was simply wanting more money the whole time. All in all, it’s not been a good year for Wayne. Really though, what does Wayne Rooney have to be unhappy about? He’s Wayne Rooney! He’s never had to queue at the job centre or pine after an ex-girlfriend who left him for a surfer. He just kicks a ball into a net, which he’s very good at (or was, at least). If I were Wayne Rooney and I’d just blasted a 40 yard screamer, I wouldn’t stand there scowling, I’d go “Bloody hell! Did anyone see that? I am squirting machismo out of my nipples! I am a monster truck that walks like a man.”
We shouldn’t care about the private lives of footballers. We do, but we shouldn’t. It’s time to change. They are not role models, they should be free to screw around with as many hookers as they want and accept the consequences with their loved ones in privacy. Like Charlie Sheen but with privacy.
5. Don’t believe You “Could do Better Than That”
If there’s one thing that winds me up more than anything in football, it’s when fans believe they could do better than the professionally trained players. “Oh, I could have saved that!” You couldn’t. “Well, I would have scored that.” You wouldn’t. “My gran could have scored that! And she’s dead!” That’s just stupid. Sit down, shut up, and don’t be a dick.
In fact, that’s my overarching resolution. It goes for myself, and for you, dear reader. In 2011, don’t be a dick.
Happy New Year.