As paradoxes go, it’s not quite up there with Schrödinger’s Cat, but it’s close. How is a sport that is so popular also so unpopular?
We speak, of course, of football. It’s the most popular sport on the planet – a fact that it rarely misses an opportunity to trumpet. It’s squeezed almost every other sport to the fringes and shows no sign of stopping in its efforts to Hoover up every last bit of disposable income from down between the cushions of the remotest sofa in the remotest corners of the globe. We are simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by how bloated the game on its own importance the game has become, and by its efforts to wipe out as much of what made us like it as possible.
I’m conscious of the retort that the views expressed above could be dismissed as the trademark ramblings of a certain type of curmudgeonly fiftysomething fan, but should you deploy that retort I would see you and raise you the fact that plenty of far younger fans share many of the reservations aired in this book, despite what the likes of Florentino Perez would have you believe about “young people” wanting games to be split into eight parts and played entirely on Instagram.
There’s plenty not to like about modern football, and Jim Keoghan has written two very good, in-depth books on what’s wrong with the game and how people are trying to put it right – both Punk Football and How to Run a Football Club come highly recommended. Is It Just Me… is a bit of an attempt to move into more mainstream commercial territory, and unlike his previous books it eschews presenting in-depth arguments in favour of bowling through a litany of bite-sized observations of the many irritations in today’s game.
It’s something to dip into when it all gets too much, rather than a cover-to-cover read, and you’ll probably want to dip into it when you’re watching what looks set to be the unbearably smug and surface upcoming BBC series claiming to be a documentary about the rise of the Premier League. I realise, of course, that I have committed the cardinal sin of writing off in advance what will probably be acclaimed as one of the best sporting documentaries ever made, but have you seen those trailers…?
Pretty much everything you’d expect to be here is here, ranging from new stadiums to parachute payments, celebrity referees to half-and-half scarves as well as official singing sections. You’ll argue with some of the selections, you’ll dismiss some of the arguments made – which is kind of the point of a book like this.
Within its pages you’ll find possibly the most accurate and succinct summation of the essence of too much Fan TV – “nothing sells like a dickhead” – and a neat piece of research that reveals that based on the average price of a Premier League ticket being £32, or 35p a minute, leaving early to beat the traffic costs £33 per season.
And that, my friends, is the kind of original thinking that makes you realise the game still has something going for it.