BY JIM KEOGHAN
If Taylor Swift has taught us anything, it’s that “haters’ gonna hate”. But whether you consider this to be a regretful state of affairs largely depends upon the ‘hater’ involved. In the case of someone like Nigel Farage, the seemingly inexhaustible torrent of bile-laden shit that pours out of his mouth on a regular basis is obviously something to be saddened by. By contrast, the stream of ‘hate’ delivered by Richard Foster in his new book, The A-Z of Football Hates is something to be welcomed and revelled in.
What Foster has assembled here is a collection of irritants that have come to plague our national game. They range from the minor (ridiculous haircuts, players wearing gloves, football bores) to the more serious (the pernicious influence of agents, the havoc wrecked by dodgy owners, the chicanery surrounding Qatar 2022).
In isolation they probably don’t seem so bad. But cumulatively is surprising just how much of what is termed ‘modern football’ alienates many fans. And it is largely the ‘modern’ game that Foster seems to have a problem with. Although some of the issues touched upon, such as diving, shifty owners and hatred between supporters have a longer history than many of us realise, much of what features in this book barely existed in the pre-Premier League era.
But these are not just the ramblings of some enraged fan hankering for the return of a simpler age. Foster picks apart the modern game with precision, providing a well written and comprehensibly researched critique of why football leaves so many of us with a bad taste in the mouth.
You would be hard-beat to find a more concise explanation, for example, of how agents came to have such a powerful position in the game than the one Foster supplies here. So too, his section on corporate hospitality, which succinctly tracks the growing commercialisation of the ‘football experience’ and gleefully skewers the hypocrisy of those clubs, such as Liverpool that appear to be in thrall to their private partners (even as they use athletes to push high-fat doughnuts to supporters).
The book uses its contributors well too, drawing from within and outside the game to provide insight from players and fans alike on the varied alphabetical targets that Foster has placed in his cross-hairs. As an Evertonian and a fan of those rare footballers that tend to stray away from the mainstream, the choice of Pat Nevin for the section on ‘Hatred’ was a welcome inclusion. Nevin provides an insightful contribution on this topic, one informed by his Celtic upbringing and the several seasons spent at Everton, factors that have given him experience of two of footballs most hate-filled rivalries.
Of course, with an alphabet to fill (and the writer admits he could have filled more than one) it would be surprising if every choice found a receptive audience. And so, while I could agree with what was written on issues such as stadium naming rights, the loss of player-loyalty in the game and the tyranny of statistics, I found myself less open to some other choices.
It seems churlish to begrudge a team a victory parade. For those supporters who rarely taste success, having their side parade silverware around the town is hardly a crime. Rather it’s something that the whole community can join together to celebrate. Equally, is it so wrong that players bring their families on to the pitch to celebrate an important victory? Although some people might find it slightly saccharine, in a game that struggled for so long to cultivate an inclusive image for families, the sight of players giving their children an affectionate cuddle is hardly something to hate.
But these were minor disagreements. On the whole this is well written, excellently researched and at times, genuinely funny book. And despite its title I would actually argue that Foster’s list originates from a place of love not hate. It is clear throughout that here is a writer that remains smitten with football. But the game has changed over the past few decades and not always for the better. The ‘hates’ listed here represent a collection that, in the author’s eyes, diminish football, distorting it from its natural state, marring the game that he clearly loves so much. And it’s a list that will chime with many fans out there who, like Foster, believe that Football is in danger of losing its soul.
You can pick up The A-Z of Football Hates from Amberley Books http://www.amberleybooks.com/ or from Amazon here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Football-Hates-Definitive-Everything-Beautiful/dp/1445639882/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417692514&sr=1-1&keywords=a-z+of+football+hates
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