If you’ve read any of my previous columns, you’ll have gathered that I’m a football fan. If not, well, spoiler alert. But what you might not have figured out is how exactly to get into football. Here’s how.
Football is the most accessible sport you’re going to find apart from running, and let’s be honest, that’s not a real sport that’s just survival instincts. All you need to play is something vaguely round that won’t break your foot when you kick it. Goalposts – made out of jumpers or trees or any two things with a space between them – are nice if you can find them but not necessary. This is how it’s possible for football to be played all around the world, from floating pitches in Thailand to a desert pitch in Morocco. In the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa, the enduring image that stayed with me was the footage of the boys playing in streets with balls they had made themselves out of condoms and elastic bands. You don’t need money to play, no expensive equipment or coaching, just something for a ball and time. Pelé, arguably the best player of all time, grew up practicing with a sock stuffed with newspaper. That’s aspirational and inspiring and joyous.
Plus, there are so many forms of the game for people to enjoy. There’s deaf football and walking football, futsal and indoor football, five-a-sides, seven-a-sides and eleven-a-sides, the Homeless World Cup and the FIFA World Cup. There are teams at Glasgow uni too. You’re spoilt for choice.
If playing it is accessible, being a fan is even more so. You can hardly walk around Glasgow without tripping over one or another local team with its own set of fans. And you can be a fan from anywhere. Advances in technology have allowed people in sub-Saharan Africa to follow Real Madrid religiously, or kids in Indonesia to support Manchester United. There are Irish pubs in what seems like every corner of the world, and if there’s an Old Firm game on you can bet they’re playing it.
I can go around the world and bring up the name “Messi” and, with the possible exceptions of North Korea and the USA, people will know who I’m talking about. Not to exaggerate, but football is one of those rare things that allows us to see how much we have in common. It’s something I can talk about with so many different people with whom I might otherwise have no mutual interests. Between that and my politics degree, I never run out of chat in the taxi home.
Attending matches, on the other hand, is not quite so easy, if you’re looking at the top tier in Scotland anyway. Being a regular visitor to your home ground is far from cheap – in the 2017/18 season the least expensive season ticket at Celtic Park was £376, and for Ibrox £335. Hardly pocket change. Of course, there are cheaper alternatives. Lower down the leagues the prices get more manageable and women’s football is extremely affordable. And they’re good: women’s team Glasgow City made it to the quarter finals of the Champion’s League just a few years ago. Grassroots football is always something that should be supported as it improves the game as a whole. It can also often be more entertaining – tackles are tougher and defences weaker. Win/win.
But let’s go back to these top flight prices for a minute. They don’t actually need to be so high. If we take a look at German football the costs are so much more palatable, and the quality of the game makes Scottish football look like a kick about in the playground. German teams are run very differently than teams in the UK, and have to be majority owned by club members. This means that fans have far more influence over the day-to-day running of the clubs, and are able to keep the prices down.
Fans make clubs, not the other way around. Clubs’ money comes from the ordinary punter paying at the door, buying subscription TV packages, snatching up replica t-shirts and branded balls. Without supporters there would be no club. So don’t fans deserve a bit better than astronomical prices that line the pockets of multi-millionaire owners? At the very least give us cheaper pies.
[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]