Friday, October 11, 2013

The privileged people’s game

'Not for him the usual histrionics of football jubilation: instead Boris Jelovac looked around, tried to spot a figure in the crowd (Prince William)... and bowed'

In the week where a fresher’s guide to Trinity College Cambridge from 1660 advised the new intake to avoid football, it ‘being… a rude, boistrous exercise, & fitter for Clownes then for Scholler’, the FA’s 150th anniversary match inadvertently showed how far the game has come in being accepted as a natural pastime for the upper and ruling classes – and our deference to and mute acceptance of their involvement in our game.

The FA anniversary was supposed to be a celebration of the grassroots – its website trumpets its ‘not-for-profit commitment to investing in football.’ Civil Service FC, which proudly claims to be the world's oldest amateur club (formed 1863) as well as the only existing founder member club of the FA, played Polytechnic FC (formed 1875), but the symbolism of the match was heavy for the wrong reasons – suggesting instead privileged access, facilities geared toward the wealthier strata and a ruling class who as we know have no idea how to run the game.

That the princes take every opportunity to declare their love for the game is no surprise. But it doesn’t so much demonstrate their egalitarian streak, as they might hope, as their being in tune with a rich younger generation used to the game accommodating them (20 years or more after the move toward edging out the undesirable elements with more costly all-seater stadia – that and floating the idea of letting the indebted clubs go to the wall). The chattering classes and above depend on it for their spectacle (rugby, let’s face it, is a niche sport even for the posh), but in a lot more parasitic way. Oh look, uncouth footballer does something bad, how terrible, let’s have some more of it.

Richer segments have always been involved - these original amateur clubs were very paternalist enterprises formed with the idea of improving the health of the working classes – but when all this comes amid growing popular struggle to ‘take back’ the game some more well-rounded representation of where football is today would have been appropriate, not some gadabout on a royal lawn. Notts County, Stoke and Sheffield FC had all formed by 1863 but there doesn’t seem to be much promoting of the game’s northern heartlands in the anniversary.

But that’s where football is today – administrators talking about investment and development in the grassroots while the global-not-local game continues to alienate traditional supporters at the top level (and not just here). Bring back the clownes.

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