Friday, 2 March 2012

Football should return to the back pages

It has been striking over recent times to witness the way in which sport and particularly football have come to dominate the national news agenda.As a female writer to one national newspaper recently noted to not be part of the “national conversation” on football was almost to be excluded. This was despite the fact that a huge proportion of the population, particularly women, have little interest in football.The media interest has certainly reached hysterical proportions. Not only does football often occupy TV peak viewing times but has also now come to dominate news agendas.The BBC scores high in this area. Any football news no matter how trivial seems to take on earth shattering proportions. A good example came on the day that England football manager Fabio Capello resigned, while Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, his likely successor, was cleared of tax evasion charges. A significant news story yes, but more important than 50 killed on the day in Syria. The public service broadcaster thought so running with the football story first and Syria second on its news at 10. Another story to hit the headlines was that of a spat between Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and Liverpool forward Luis Suarez. The latter was suspended for eight games due to a racist slur against the same player. His first game back was between the two teams. Suarez refused to shake hands with Evra. Again a significant sports story but not the most important news story of the day? It was not always thus, as a young football fan I remember lamenting that no matter how big the football event it always seemed to trail in at the bottom of the news - this included England winning the World Cup in 66. I am still a keen football follower, doing some reporting and supporting West Ham United (who won the World Cup in 1966).Part of growing up is realising that yes football can be a passion, it is a fascinating game but must be kept in proportion. It is not to use that rather silly phrase accredited to the former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly a matter more important than life and death.In many ways football and sport generally seem to have taken on the role of religion for some. You certainly never see equivalent scenes to those of the tears rolling down faces of young and old alike when their team has been relegated at the end of a season on Songs of Praise of a Sunday. Football needs to be got into proportion. It has a value as an entertainment, a distraction even in some instances a substitute for war – hardly a bad thing. Football can and does bring people together. Great friendships are formed around football, there is genuine camaraderie. But this has always been the case. The difference today is that commercial interests have enveloped football to a greater extent than ever before. The players are paid huge sums of money. There is a whole industry of agents, PRs and general hangers on making handsome livelihoods out of the business.Television has been the biggest single influence in pushing football to the forefront of the national discourse. The take over of Premier league coverage by Sky means that football has never been more heavily promoted and trailed in the Murdoch owned newspapers. The others have quickly followed.This will all no doubt change one day when TV moves onto some other area. But for now football seems to be all in many instances. The thing is that it is not all. It is entertainment. Football deserves coverage but it needs to be got into proportion. Frankly, it should return to the back pages and the end of the news bulletins where it belongs. A real concern is that the saturation coverage given to sport is quite clearly the modern day version of bread and circuses, distracting people from the issues that really matter. Other important issues are not being covered due to the prominence of subjects like the physical health of footballers, their love affairs, tax affairs or whether they want to shake hands or not. Let’s get some proportion back. Let those who want to enjoy football do so but don’t make those who don’t feel like outcasts in their own country.

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