The rise of class systems within football fandom is just a reaction to the sport on offer. Tom Young looks at why dreaming of success has given way to moral judgement...
http://www.football365.com/f365-says/87 ... ow-A-Study
The Albany pub, Great Portland Street. It's a Friday night, the eve of the Champions League final. The main bar is filled with the usual post-work crowd, leaving dos and glittery hen nights. But downstairs in the basement there's an altogether different scene. It's rammed. Filled with Dortmund fans in yellow shirts, kilts, bandanas and socks pulled up to the knees. In town for Saturday's match, they've come to the bar to see Uli Hesse, a popular German football writer, onstage reading excerpts from his book on the history of Dortmund's now famous fans.
Except the room isn't full exclusively of Dortmund fans. In corners, by the bar, to the side of the stage, pockets of Londoners are visible. They're easy to spot: moustachioed, woollen-hatted twenty-somethings. They're nodding along to Hesse's words with an earnestness usually reserved for a nu-folk gathering. They are, of course, our old friend the football hipsters and they're having a wonderful time. I ask one whether they've come to see Hesse and the Dortmund contingent. He nods. Do you speak German, I ask. Do you understand him? "No," he answers. "But it's just great to be here isn't it, just to witness it." I wonder whether it is.
Back home that night, angry people on message boards don't share the moustachioed men's enthusiasm. They are sniffing about Dortmund fans; football hipsters. Jurgen Klopp, the achingly charismatic Dortmund coach is apparently a fake - although it's unclear what he's faking apart from his hair. It seems Dortmund are definitively not cool now. They are old hat. Its fans are poseurs. Borrussia Dortmund are this year's Barcelona. A team to be tossed about between zealous disciples and jaded misanthropes like a piece of yellowed meat. Dortmund and its ownership model, cheap ticketing and young team has become a prism for us to bicker through and a footballing concept to define ourselves by.
Days later, Dortmund's undeniable appeal is contrasted by Monaco. Bankrolled by a fertilizer-flogging Russian and dodging French tax laws, the club has spent around Â£110 million on three players, including Â£51 million on Falcao. The real news though is the club's model: Monaco plan to become an 'aspirational, boutique brand' in order to raise enough funds to sidestep Financial Fair Play (FFP) requirements. To do this they will create 6,000 luxury seats - presumably made out of calf skin and babies' teeth - for which wealthy Monaco residents will apparently pay around â‚¬2000 a game. The message boards are in agreement on this one. They sharpen their knives.
It's not all Monaco's fault though. Last year it was PSG, before that Man City, Malaga and Chelsea - who are now old money, incidentally. In they staggered, crashing into view on the BBC transfer gossip page like a lottery winner's gauche conservatory extension.
All this money has of course led to a decline in excitement. The growing prevalence of finance has knackered competitive balance, which is now only disturbed by a new upstart in the oligarch mould. It's hard to imagine Forest repeating their European success in a hurry. A quick look at the points tallies of European league winners backs this up: the Premier League's champions romped home by 11 points, the Bundesliga's by 25, Serie A by nine, Ligue 1 by 12 and La Liga by 15. Records for points tallies are being broken regularly and the gap between top and bottom is increasing.
It's not just domestically either. A piece by Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian proved that at European level, the pool of potential winners has decreased rapidly. Wilson points out that since 1999, the number of Champions League semi-finalists has been decreasing. And since 2009 the average has been for the 20 semi-finalists over the previous five years to comprise only nine teams.
That the game is dominated by money is not up for debate. Less easy to pin down is how football culture's sense of itself has changed to accommodate it. The conversation seems to have shifted - away from the sport itself, increasingly undermined by financial doping, and towards a sort of moral slanging match. We're left with ideology. The 'right' way of doing things. The sustainable way. Or the 'wrong' way.
Take the Champions League final: the finances were inseparable from the narrative. Dortmund: plucky, cheap, young home-grown team, with a wage bill akin to Aston Villa's were facing Bayern Munich: respected, also supporter-owned but sullied by corporate revenues and a recent history of poaching. Try and recall the context of Man United's victory over Bayern in 1999. It wasn't a factor. The landscape has changed.
The utter importance of clubs' ownership and company accounts, along with the decline in competitive balance has left football fans in a bind. The ability to dream has left most of us. "I used to go to the game in the 80s as a kid, believing that my club could win the league," Andy Burnham, former secretary of state for sport tells me. "But it's unthinkable now. How can I persuade my son to keep coming when he knows we don't have a hope?"
So what does football watching become once it's been robbed of competitive balance and replaced with FFP requirements and ownership models? The answer seems to be a sort of sociology A-level; a class system for fans, with arbitrary classifications and implied criticisms. Our parents' generation, whose relationship with the game involved merely going to a ground on Saturday to watch their team, has been replaced by a hyper-aware football bourgeoisie.
No major club worth its salt has escaped the dogma, the placing on the ladder of football's homemade values system. David Conn's annual Premier League club-by club financial report gloomily confirms this. Alongside descriptions of each clubs' ownership and turnover, Conn makes comment under the heading: 'the state they're in', dissecting their place in football's new moral firmament. An unofficial league table emerges, based on behaviour, prudence and the tax status of the owner. Norwich and Swansea appear at the top, followed by (probably) West Brom, down to Everton, Stoke and then Wigan and on and on, into the murky world of sheiks, oligarchs and venture capitalists. Performance on the pitch is irrelevant.
Which brings us back to The Albany pub. The comforting view of the hipsters in their natural habitat, like lions in the Savannah: a basement bar, a man in a cable-knit jumper discussing fan culture in a language they cannot understand. It shouldn't be a surprise that for some, judging the cultures and ethos of clubs has become just as much of a sport itself. As fans lose their ability to daydream of success and are faced so relentlessly with the financial realities of clubs, the result - a sort of football muso, obsessed with sociological nuances and moral judgments - seems almost inevitable. The moustaches still need to go though.
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