The Evolution of Fan

by Eamonn Power

Following from last week’s guide essential guide to being a modern day football fan, Eamonn Power takes a look at how today’s supporters have gotten to where they are and whether the way in which the beautiful game is now covered and followed is for better or for worse.

In the 120 years or so since the rules of association football have been formalised, very little in terms of how it is actually played has changed. Aside from relatively minor tweaks and improvements, a game of football on a grassy sod all those years could be easily compared to any of today’s encounters…. the same cannot be said however, on how it is reported on, scrutinised and followed.

Since the birth of the professional game, enthusiasts have never been short in numbers. Back then, an already football mad public would attend a game, buy a pink slip of paper upon leaving the stadium in order to find out the results of their competitors, and then read about these games in the back pages of their newspapers the following day. What followed would be days of exhaustive discussion before a desperate wait for Saturday to once again arrive.

While the basic elements of this approach are still quite similar, the contemporary fan has a bit more material available to him/her should they need a quick fix of football coverage. The fact that you may be reading this piece, published by an online football blog on a computer, a phone, a tablet or even an mp3 player adds more weight to my argument than I could ever hope to express in words.

I love football, yet despite my hourly visits to various blogs and websites, weekends spent in front of the TV (and dodgy Chinese streams) watching action from the across the globe and every spare moment tuned into Sky Sports News, I am haunted by the question of whether less may indeed be more. Today, I am essentially a football addict, restless if removed from the latest news….. distraught over the prospects of missing a game…… terrified by the off-season. What’s more I can track exactly how my addiction came about.

As a child with a reasonable interest in sport, I had the good fortune to be the son of a newsagent. During my early days schooling I’d begin each morning by pouring through the back pages of numerous tabloids where I’d be treated to radical gossip and average reports. If I was lucky I’d catch a radio sports bulletin at various stages throughout the day but aside from Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the latest issues of “Shoot” and “Match” would make their way to me, I had little else to do except to go into school and try pretend to be Eric Cantona while arguing as to why Liverpool were useless.

As the years passed, technology began to slowly make its way into my life and the introduction of a TV capable of providing teletext into the Power household is when things really kicked off, if you’ll pardon the pun. What began as a twice-daily check of the headlines on Aertel page 220 quickly mutated into a half-hourly habit which essentially planted the seeds of addiction that the internet, BSkyB and various other media organizations would go onto irrigate, fertilise and harvest like the vegetable that sits watching a man report from a club mega-store about a sales boom in replica jerseys following a previous day’s promotion, that I am.

And here is the crux, despite my love of (and seeming dependence on) all things football related I question whether there can indeed be such a case as too much of a good thing. By having all the latest exclusives, opinions, interviews, headlines, statistics and scandals so easily accessible has the “fun” has been taken out of being a fan? Week long discussions following a a round of action are no more as every talking point is first reported to death and then promptly replaced by another while every game, be it the fourth Old Firm derby in two weeks or the “Super Sunday” billing of Wigan vs Stoke, is presented to a brainwashed public as unmissable viewing while carefully crafted (and increasingly hyperbolic) montages set a scene promising the viewer a battle of unprecedented importance.

With the range of media at our disposal and the endless bytes of information at our fingertips have the simple joys of football fandom seen their last days? Twitter tells us what our “heroes” had for breakfast and what Playstation game they’re playing. Pub quizzes are laughably pointless as iphone screens are tapped as quickly as questions are read out and what were once evening long debates over inconsequential factoids like whether or not Ruud van Nistelrooy had a better strike ratio for PSV Eindhoven than Afonso Alves did for Herenveen (he didn’t) or how many clubs Ade Akinbiyi played for (13) are solved in seconds with the use of Google or Wikipedia. Sure, you might get the right answer, but was that ever the point? ……..No, it wasn’t. At least not for me.

The generation that oft condemns Sky Sports for spoon feeding them information can only blame themselves………….and teletext.

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