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The Dave Woodhall column

BALLS TO THE WORLD CUP

22-06-2006

I'm not bothered about the World Cup. That immediately puts me in a minority, and probably a persecuted one at that. It's a good job I haven't got children; they'd be bullied at school because daddy isn't arsed about the World Cup. “There's the kid whose dad didn't watch the World Cup. Quick, stick his head down the bog”

The even odder thing about this is that I'm a football supporter. I just don't like the World Cup, or for that matter the Premiership, Champions League or any of the bloated, corporate festivals of football that fill our television screens and the nation's psyche. I don't like the way the game has changed. And I particularly don't like the way in which everyone is a football supporter now.

Call me a twisted, miserable cynic, an inverted snob even, and I'll agree with you. I liked football when it was an endurance test. When we were a threat to the well-being of the nation and had to be treated like one. I enjoyed going to grounds where a view of the pitch was a bonus and a roof unheard-of luxury. Where the threat of physical danger was ever-present and you didn't know whether it was more likely to come from the other team's supporters or from the police. And when the football was garbage. Yes, I was that mid-eighties Aston Villa supporter, in crowds of ten thousand watching a team sliding towards relegation. But it was enjoyable. Standing in the rain watching your team get hammered then traipsing back to the station unable to get a drink or even a bag of chips because nobody was serving football supporters was fun. No, really it was.

Fair enough, what we went through was, in hindsight, insane. We should never have put up with the conditions we experienced and the treatment we endured, and god bless fanzines and the Football Supporters Association, who worked in tandem to show that we weren't a bunch of hooligans. Groups such as these did so much to build the groundwork for football's current profile, and never get the credit they deserve.

And now, I look at these Johnny-Come-Latelys with ill-disguised contempt. Please don't try to talk to me about football, you whose idea of support is a Sky subscription and a replica shirt. You are not a proper supporter and I have nothing but contempt for you and your lifestyle choice. You, Mr Chelsea ‘Til I Die. Have you ever heard of Doug Rougvie? And you over there, wearing the latest Manchester United Leisurewear. Did you know your team went 26 years without winning the league? You'll never have the same feelings as I do, so don't even try to engage me in jolly banter and patronising conversation.

Then there's the St George-mania. Am I alone in smelling the sweet stench of hypocrisy here? The same people falling over themselves to get caught up in World Cup euphoria would not so long ago have run a mile away from football. The newspapers supporting our boys when they would previously send teams of news reporters to international tournaments for their readers to get a full ration of shock headlines across the front pages. The World Cup-targeted advertising from companies who would never have got involved in the pleasures of the lower orders before Football Came Home. And then there's the dubious tie-ups with drinks firms. Alcohol and football used to be such a volatile mix that it was all but banned from the sport. Now, it's virtually compulsory.

I feel a bit like an Adam & the Ants fan back in 1981. One minute you're watching a hardcore punk band singing about S&M; suddenly you're surrounded by screaming girls, Smash Hits posters and Dandy Highwaymen. My mate Steve and I were reminiscing about old times the other day. He threw in the 1990 England v Italy semi-final (yes, the Gazza's tears one) where tickets were plentiful. I countered with the 1982 European Cup final, played in a ground 1/3 empty. It happened, we were there. And you weren't, little Ms Roooooo-neeeeeeeee.

So bugger off and leave my game alone.

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