England vs Ukraine – is it time for the fans to reignite the spirit of football?

Let me start by asking you a question – what were you doing last Friday night? After a hard week at work did you have a pint? Or go out and have a bit of dinner with your significant other? Were you playing online poker until 4am in your bedroom or maybe you decided to watch Moldova vs England? It would be interesting to see what your response is as some people didn’t even seem to know there was an England game on.

I was at a local pub, the sun was shining, the ladies were scantily clad and the crowd in the beer garden were enjoying the last rays of ‘summer’ without a TV in sight. ‘What England game?’ someone asked, I told him, but like the majority of people in that beer garden that night, he didn’t seem to care. Maybe it was the venue and the anti-mainstream society types that hang out there, you know –the skinny jeans, stupid hair, trying to look edgy/different and just look like everyone else type- maybe it was the fact Moldova were the opponent, whatever the reason, the bottom-line was it seemed as though no one even knew or even cared that England were playing.  

Due to the lack of interest from those around me and a lack of a TV in close proximity, I decided to stream the game via my iPad whilst I knocked back a few pints. Maybe it was the fact I looked either like a techno nerd or a flash b*stard that no one came over and asked the score, but I was surprised there wasn’t a bit more interest. It shows how far the international game has come…or not as the case maybe.

It is amazing to think this summer of sport has not made everyone go sport crazy and want to consume any sport, especially an international one, as much as is humanly possible. When you think about the scenes we have seen at both the Olympics and Paralympics, topped off with the thousands that lined the streets of London to pay homage to British athletes yesterday, it shows how sport can, and should, be supported – but this doesn’t seem to have resonated so far in the 2012/13 football season.  

I am lucky enough to have been to games from the Premier League down to non-league this season and in general the support has been poor. I don’t like saying this as a big fan of football, but it is true…to me it seems like fans don’t feel like they have to do their bit anymore, the opposite of the spectators at the Olympics.

When you listen to Olympic and Paralympic athletes talk about how the crowd helped them push their body to the limit, how they found that extra 10% from the noise and encouragement that was coming their way, it shows you how vital support is to an athlete or any sportsman for that matter. Maybe the way people view the Team GB athletes and how they view footballers is completely different.

Some football fans now seem to look at the fact a footballer is paid thousands of pounds a week and because of this, expect them to perform at the highest level at all times. They have a point, but at the same time, footballers are only human and the buzz and vibe from a crowd will definitely play some part in how they perform on the pitch – something we were made aware of by the Team GB Women’s football team during London 2012 as they played in front of nearly 71,000 at Wembley. There seems to be a distance between football fans and the players that doesn’t seem to be there when it comes to events like the Olympics and Paralympics, with athletes that are humanised and more real.

Throughout London 2012 the athletes have constantly paid homage and showed their appreciation to the crowd for the support shown. Regardless of who I have seen interviewed, there is always a humbleness in any response when they talk about the support of the home crowd. Athletes would go in to great depth to explain the effect the crowd has – the best you usually get out of a football player is a clap at the end of a match (sincere or part of their ‘duty’) and maybe a ‘the crowd were great tonight’ during a post-match interview.

It will be interesting to see how the crowd at Wembley perform tonight, a crowd that will be treated to the sight of 15 medal winning athletes from Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic squads gracing the hallow turf at half-time. Will this galvanise the England fans for the second half or will they be supporting the team from kick-off? You would expect Wembley to be rocking off the back of all the positivity around London 2012, but that can’t be taken for granted.

Roy Hodgson himself has said he wants his players to be inspired by the achievements of the athletes at London 2012 and touched on the role of the crowd as he said It is nice for us to see the British people are still prepared to get behind their athletes…It is important now that, in our individual sports, we try to keep some of that spirit going and try to tap in to what is a great interest in the English public in top-level sport.”

To me it seems that ‘spirit’ is dying out in football, with fans that care less for the history and heritage of the game and more about the trophies, big transfers and the glitz and glamour that now engulfs modern football. Tonight could mark the return of an old school mentality, away from the side-show that has become club football and watch something pure, that is true to the heart and soul of what football should be – an international match which isn’t about money, but the honour of representing your country. Roy was right to say he wants the players to be inspired, but for me it is the fans that can keep inspiring football for years to come. 

This entry was posted in 2014 World Cup Qualifiers, England, International Football. Bookmark the permalink.
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