Many years back, I sat with a mate chatting about random stuff and another mutual friend joined us looking rather suspicious and paranoid as he sat down.
"You won't believe this", he whispered.
He then proceed to tell us a story that had been reported in the newspapers. However the version he described was somewhat different to the one that was covered by the tabloids. The finer details supplied contained greater clarity and ironically a far more sensationalist pull than how the red tops presented it. In hindsight, you can understand that if you wished to read between the lines, the story in the papers hinted very subtly at the underlying truth behind the headline. Our paranoid friend was not quite constrained by legalities. In the know. Face to face. No hiding behind an avatar or badge. Old skool style.
How I miss those old days, before the Internet. When all your football discussion was done in the stands and pubs pre and post match and then in college/uni/work on the Monday morning. Rumours and stories concerning footballers would eventually find their way to someone you knew who would then share with you by virtue of a far slower cruder network, a grapevine of Chinese whispers, which some what distorted the original version by the time you got to place your ears up close to listen.
Football transfer stories would play out on the back pages. In fact (I could be distorting the past myself here) I'm fairly sure at the time the tabloids were never far off the mark with their stories. I remember following the Paul Gascoigne transfer via The Sun and the Daily Mirror. It played out with every twist and turn pretty much as reported on. Even with the papers claiming (as Paul himself promised) that he was going to join Utd. And then he joined Spurs.
Everything was far less complicated. Sure, agents existed at the time but footballers were only beginning to transcend to the path of vanity and pampered ego. They were still infants. Football had yet to explode (implode). The money yet to hit astronomical levels.
In modern times everything is pushed and harassed under the microscope, probed and then dissected. We can discuss, debate, argue and rant long after we return home from the game - in message boards, on blogs and with social networking. In fact we can do all of it at the game if we so wished via our smart phones. During the game. In fact, we can even commentate on the game thanks to Twitter. We are completely immersed and every thought and opinion can now be snapshot and shared and forwarded onto others and left behind for all to read weeks, months and years later.
It's not just what we see, it's what everybody can see. There are cameras, microphones, twenty-four hour news feeds on tv and the radio. There is so much coverage that it's an impossibility for you to not know what is going on. Everybody is a reporter. Everybody is a critic.
But that isn't a bad thing.
We have the ability to communicate and share opinion with fans from our own club and other clubs - from within the UK and from anywhere on the planet. The football fan isn't just that mouthy bloke in the stand shouting abuse at the ref. We've got writers, illustrators, animators. We have tactical analysts and fanatical statisticians. We no longer have to wait for that bloke in the pub or a mate of a mate to pass on something he heard from his uncle that has a cousin who has a girlfriend that has a brother that works with someone who knows someone who works in the club you support and they heard *snip*. Now we get told the juicy info, off the cuff, from a tree, with only a simple caveat stating 'don't shoot the messenger'. To the point. No messing. No need to wait a month to find it out the details.
Sure, the tabloids no longer control the transfer tittle-tattle. Agents, club insiders, paid off journalists, players - they're all in on it. Along with club managers. Everyone with their own agenda, everyone trying to influence and tap up. Mostly driven by the greed for more money and success. You'll find many staking a claim in a story they copied from someone who copied it from someone else who heard it from someone who probably made it up. But nobody stands tall to be accountable for the mess, because it's part and parcel of how things now work. And if questioned, they claim they're protecting their 'insider'. A license to lie. Much like the existence of God you can't prove it, you can't disprove it. Unless it's written in cryptic English (if it is - then it's a lie).
And sure, players are hardly likeable these days compared to the good old days. Arrogant, smug, horrible self-centred people. Not all of them. Most of them. Especially the really really successful ones. England captains and the like. You obviously get arrogant, smug, horrible self-centred people following the game too, be it in the stands or via blogs.
Especially via the blogs. Crowning themselves the peoples champion when the reality is that they hardly have much to say and there are far more articulate and funny football fans who don't go anywhere near a computer, but you'll find them at the match where perhaps you have to be standing next to them to enjoy and smile at a quick-witted joke or astute observation. Unless they've been escorted out for not sitting down.
And then you have the clubs that treat fans like consumers not football fans, patronising them what with revenue taking precedence over the emotive stuff, because emotion wont help bluster the transfer budget.
Hold on a second. Screw this. I think I need to go back and re-think the title to this article.
This was part 3 of the International Break Diary II