The beautiful game - football. Association, not rugby, not American football, just the rough-and-tumble, kick-and-chase-and-tackle of the English national sport and, as some would have it, most religious of religions FOOTBALL.
But, wait. Football has changed a fair bit over the years. No longer just 'a man's game', football has been turned into something else. A woman's game as well, now, but also a game played by people whose connection with players such as Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Bobby Robson is about as tenuous as it gets. More likely, these pansies of the modern game have more in common with Bobby Shaftoe or even Bobby Davro. Bunch of wankers, the lot of them.
And then again, it's not only the players. The referees want to hug the limelight as well. Gone are the days when the 'man in black' was an almost-invisible presence on the pitch. He made himself visible when there was an important decision to be made, and that was about it. Nowadays, the ref sees himself as part of the glamour, mistaking authority for popularity. Every bit as much a 'playboy' as the players.
There's something different about the atmosphere as well. Everyone is sitting down these days, not standing up and surging like in the old days. And there are no hooligans, almost unthinkable to fans who attended games in the 1970s and 1980s, for what was a football match without a bit of Bingo?.
After the disasters at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, the Bradford City Fire, and Hillsborough, the government decided changes were needed, and so they made some: all-seater stadia to remove any trace of an atmosphere from a match; sky-high admission prices brought on by the introduction of vastly-overpaid foreign players, who generally aren't worth the money invested in them, and who have brought their worst habits to the English game in the form of cheating, diving, rolling-around-on-the-floor-feigning-injury, overblown goal celebrations, and much 'pouting of lips', particularly when the referee's decision goes against them. Diddums do it to them.
The astronomical price of watching football is partly a result of having foreign players in English football, and partly a result of government thinking that, if they made it expensive, then sold TV rights that meant you could watch most top games in your living-room, you wouldn't actually want to go to a stadium again, which is a form of state control, and which didn't work. It didn't work, because the idea was probably thought-up by someone who has never been to a football match, and would not, therefore, understand that watching from your home is a very poor substitute for the real thing. But, that was 'the way forward', and successive governments have been burying their heads in the sand ever since.
To hooliganism, then. What was so bad about it? Was it thought that making people sit down was the way to make them stop fighting? Did the government think that they could 'weed out' the troublecausers by making admission unaffordable? If so, did that mean the troublecausers were, in the eyes of the authorities, people from the 'lower end' who would not have so much readily-available cash?
To be honest, most Saturdays were trouble-free. There may have been the odd "You're gonna get your fuckin 'eads kicked in!" directed at opposition fans, and there may have been the odd skirmish, but instances of football hooliganism on a large scale were few-and-far-between. Yes, Millwall had a healthy appetite, and a willing set of blokes. F-Troop was the name they went by, and probably still do. Other teams like West Ham, Chelsea, Leeds, Cardiff, Birmingham and Portsmouth had reputations for violence, but every club had some lads who might be 'up for it' on any given Saturday. Still, serious trouble was rare.
Only occasionally did it go off in a big way. The Luton v. Millwall FA Cup match at Kenilworth Road in 1984, for example. Fans charged the police, then police charged the fans, and all of this accompanied by a constant hail of plastic seats being thrown from the stands - oh, what fun! Indeed, some teams' reputations travel ahead of them. For instance, if your team has an upcoming fixture with Millwall or, say, Leeds, there's a buzz around the club - expectation, anticipation, apprehension - that's hard to describe, and impossible to forget if you've experienced it.
And it always strikes me as a bit odd that sports such as Rugby Union, Aussie Rules Football, Ice Hockey and so on, regularly erupt into violence, with fans of both sides willing their own players to dish out the worst kind of punishment to the opposition. Boxing and cage-fighting are also 'all the rage' now as well. In many sports, it's taboo, but in others, like those mentioned, it seems to be encouraged! So then, if we're going to have it on the pitch, on the ice, in the ring, and in the cage, why not in the stands, or in the streets outside?
To me, football was way more exciting in the 1970s and 80s, when you'd join up with your 'matchday mates', travel to some far-offwhen you might just find yourself in the middle of a rumble, a ruck, or even a riot if your luck was in. All that was hidden away by a government who assumed it would 'go away', but it didn't, it hasn't, and it won't.
It's part-and-parcel of the game.