Wanja talks to his children, today about…
It happened that Wanja just gave a topic like that and wanted to hear, firstly, what his children thought about it, knew about it, understood about it, and secondly, because in the many years of his passion for and devotion to football, he himself had always thought about it and partly put his observations down on paper in the hope that one day someone might be interested. It was not that his texts were bad in detail or that it was not fun to read them. The book, however, always remained a dream. The observations and thoughts he had made seemed unique to him. It was quite striking – for someone who had to deal with it on a daily basis and who watched and listened to matches, interviews, post-match reports, preliminary reports, rounds of talks almost every day — that the media always specified some topic and an assessment of it and that afterwards, when one found oneself in conversation, with friends, acquaintances, chance encounters, in a café or on public transport, for example, sometimes only in the role of listener and observer there too, one got to hear exactly these topics with their assessment. The assessment occasionally had to be differentiated in that one expert held this view, another another – and this or that was now also up for discussion in the conversation. In this respect, the controversies remained. What was still striking, however, was that each of the interlocutors or whoever else made their opinion known on the occasions mentioned was firmly convinced that they had sorted and put together the arguments correctly and that one had to do it in exactly the same way or look at it in the same way as they said. In this respect, one generally fell on deaf ears there as well. Everyone was an expert and a specialist at the same time and one should rather listen to him than to anyone else.
It could also be observed, however, that everyone in his or her own way recognised the problems that were being addressed and intended to remedy them. Because no matter how the media discussed and pretended, there was no talk of an ideal football world.
“So, children, how do you see football and the spectators?” The youngest, to whom the older ones gladly gave the lead, answered: “Watching football is fun, playing football even a bit more. My friends see it the same way. Where is the problem?”
Yes, here in Putoia it was indeed the case that watching was fun. A rolling ball was preferred to a bad foul, a goal to an offside whistle, a goal finish to a borderline tackle that wasn’t enough for a penalty, but the goal kick didn’t go in either – if you got to that one at all. You could also feel that the players were fighting each other on the pitch, with some ambition, but that after the final whistle you could always look yourself, your opponent, the referee straight in the face and shake hands, thank and/or congratulate them for a great game. According to Wanja, this was also the case in the days of a Fritz Walter or Uwe Seeler on earth. But later…
So the boy was right. There was no problem. What are we talking about?
“It wasn’t that the stadiums were empty or that no one sat in front of the screen to watch a game anymore. It was just that you could ask yourself the following questions: who does it, who still watches and who doesn’t watch anymore or never did? Then there was the question of why this one does it and that one doesn’t? And finally the question: did he enjoy it? Did he enjoy it or did he get more annoyed?”
“Well, if you find that interesting? Here it’s something like this: actually, everyone enjoys it. Both the playing and the watching. You rather have to be careful with your time management that you don’t soon only occupy yourself with the game. Because there are still other things in the universe that are interesting and important.” The elder had spoken. Yes, an understanding boy. “So what was your observation on earth?”
“What I have seen is this: many understanding people have turned away, although they actually used to quite like watching and enjoyed it. Many thought that commercialisation was to blame. It was all about marketing, the spectator was fleeced more and more, the transfer fees became astronomical, as did the salaries. At the same time, many clubs lost their way in this spiral and went bankrupt, and there were also many scandals, including in the financial sector. Because there were always individuals in this huge business who enriched themselves personally or stashed away millions or even drove traditional clubs to ruin with temporary commitments. Many had an inkling of big business. Many had no idea, invested – and got their heads blown off, to use a colloquial expression. There was pretty much nothing intact about that part of the football world either.”
Sometimes you had to give the children a chance to let what they had heard sink in.
“But what struck me most,” continued Vanya after the pause for reflection, “was that people actually didn’t enjoy it any more. They continued to walk or look – those who stayed — but actually they almost only got annoyed. And this was not a small percentage or less than half. It was the vast majority. Yes, they had devoted themselves to football, it had accompanied them all their lives, even the children played the game, all in some hope of a career, but actually it had long since ceased to be what it used to be. It was their game, but their game was not what it used to be.”
Even that part had to be allowed to settle for a moment.
“But what did they do to change that?”
“Good question. Exactly. They grumbled, each to his own, getting upset about this and that, saying that this, that and the other absolutely had to be changed, arguing, getting worked up, quite sure that they were right, but no one would do anything, but next week they went to the stadium again, because they had always done it that way – and found a number of reasons to get angry again.”
“And, no one in the media noticed?”
“Again: good question. Yes, it was noticed here and there. But when there were whistles in a game – and there were all the time — it was judged that ‘the spectators of this team naturally see it differently’ or ‘they are very emotional’, but that there could be a fundamental problem behind it, it didn’t occur. There were three ways in which the spectators could whistle. Do you know what they were?”
Again a short pause for thought. “Maybe if they were not happy with the performance?” suggested the youngest.
“Yes, that could happen. Have you experienced anything like that here?” “No, hardly at all. The spectators here seem to honour what the players do there on the pitch. They might say ‘too bad’, ‘that was close’ or ‘didn’t quite work out’ or something like that. But whistling for lack of performance? No, hard to imagine.”
“So if they whistled for allegedly ‘weak performances’, then of course there is a reason for that? Were the performances really weak or was there something else behind it?”
“Your question already suggests it. The performances were not really weak. It was about a disappointed expectation.”
“Yes, to the point. And who was responsible for the expectation?”
“Probably the media, you’ll say? We’ve heard that before!”
“Good, true. If you summed up all the pre-season reports – as an example to make it most illustrative — it came out that about two to three teams wanted to be champions, about ten get into the European Cup, the remaining five in the safe midfield. There was no room for relegation or the relegation zone. According to these guidelines, which were teased out of club officials — ‘what do you expect from your team?’ and what could the person have answered now? ‘I expect us to be relegated’ or what? –, the disappointments were bound to happen. At least half of the teams fell short of their expectations. The fans were not even given the opportunity to be realistic or to be satisfied with what was on offer. It wasn’t just the performance in a single game, but the standings, for example, that made the spectators arrive with this latent dissatisfaction, which at the same time implied ‘they MUST finally win today’, which could be deduced from the unfavourable standings situation, given by the media. If there was a single misplaced pass or no goal-scoring opportunities for ten minutes, perhaps even two for the opponents during that time, then the misguided public mood would boil up. ‘They’re not getting it again’. However, neither the media nor club officials were ever aware of the fact that their own fans, with this falsely created expectation, were at the same time the ones exerting this enormous pressure on their players and thus considerably lowering their performance potential. If a question before or after an important match was ‘what about the pressure, how do you want to deal with it?’, then the answer was actually already given and the only permissible one, which one would also have heard from the fans: ‘Pressure? Pressure is everywhere. They get enough money. You have to be able to deal with that’, although the only permissible answer was still the wrong one. If you have to fear a whistle after a single unsuccessful action, then it’s only logical if you’re inhibited, tense, afraid – and do NOT get the pass to your teammate, which you get ninety-nine times out of a hundred in training to where you’d like it to be.”
“Although we don’t know that kind of pressure: that’s insightful.”
“There were permanent demands for victories. As a result, when they did succeed, they only spoke of ‘relief’ rather than joy. And this relief is the counter-reaction to pressure. So, from a purely logical point of view and also from the reporter’s language, it did exist.”
Again, the children could only listen devoutly. Yes, it was not an ideal football world.
“But that was only one part of the whistles. What else were there?”
“Presumably for unsporting behaviour?”
“That’s right, too. Basically, the spectators had quite a fine sense of when a player was behaving unsportingly. Only, unfortunately, in the world of pure results sport, at some point this was really only purposeful against the opponent. Once again, we must not forget that the spectators in the stadium were divided into fans of this team and fans of that team. Neutrals were not represented. This problem was also ignored. Why does nobody watch a match without being a fan of this or that team? Perhaps because, as one, one would then ONLY be annoyed and not only in the special case that the injustices and unpleasantness affect one’s own team? In sum, it means: the spectators were actually upset almost throughout. There were constantly scenes that were annoying. Unsportsmanship was by no means the exception, but the rule. However, the spectators were all declared biased in their ‘judgement’, presented in the form of whistles. One whistle this, one whistle that. Sure. Because they are not objective and because they feel they are permanently treated unfairly. But the fact that there might have been an overriding kind of injustice in the game was not considered in this way. So the whistles were also about unsportsmanlike conduct, only that it was almost permanently represented and mutually perpetrated against each other. In this respect, this type of whistle was almost lost in the other types.”
“So what was the third kind?” “The third kind of whistles concerned the wrong decisions. Here, almost like the second point of unsporting behaviour, but you can make the same observations. Everything analogous. There was almost consistently something to whistle for.”
“I’ll summarise then,” the middle man offered. “Fans continued to go to the stadium, out of old tradition or because it was still a kind of big event, a get-together with like-minded people. But during a match they were actually almost consistently dissatisfied. Either because the score was 0-0 and their team was doomed to win, or because an opposing player was rolling on the ground for no reason, even though he had neither been fouled nor injured, but thus interrupted a promising attack by their own team by forcing the referee to interrupt the game. Or because the referee had just ignored a foul on his own attacking player, even though it was one, while he had blown the whistle in a similar situation over there earlier. These were just a few examples. But whistles were actually blown almost all the time, right?”
“Absolutely right. Of course, every now and then there was a score where one half of the spectators was satisfied. But even then they still blew the whistle. For example, because the referee indicated FOUR minutes of injury time at 1:0, although three would have been enough, and when the four were up, he still didn’t blow the whistle to finally fix the dirty victory.”
“Ok, got it. You say the crowd was only ever for those or for that team. That only those had a motivation to watch a game — since it was boring and unfair for neutrals — you can understand. But why had these remaining fans become fans?”
“Yes, that’s my idea of a good question. The curious thing was that practically everyone who came to football at all got there through a fan relationship. So: he goes along to the stadium one time, and of course he’s kind of impressed. So many people, so much passion. Besides, depending on when he joined the club, i.e. the year he was born, it used to be much more pleasant in the stadium. At the same time, there was still halfway fair football on offer, there was an identification with his city, the club there, the players often even still came from the city or at least the club, they stayed there for many years, even the jerseys were preserved for years, decades, which ensured a higher chance of identification.”
“Well, that’s understandable. It’s just that even in later times, presumably up to the present day, fans still joined? How did it come about when that identification became harder?”
“Well, from my point of view, the identification was really no longer to be created or built up. The development was something like this: marketing increased, fan articles were forced on everyone, fan clubs were founded in which the spectators built up their identification in a completely different way. It became a cult to be a fan, so to speak. It had much less to do with the team, the players, the successes. The fans celebrated themselves and a football match, especially on away trips, became an event without football ever really taking centre stage. One was simply a fan and the fans were among themselves. Football competence or understanding of the actual game, the passion for football, all this was no longer a prerequisite. By the way, it was often the case that the away fans who accompanied ‘their’ team were so drunk at the start of the game that at best they could still hear the score. So very few of them had anything to do with ‘I am a football fan and I watch a game in this sport because it is a beautiful sport and the game excites me’. Hardly anyone, actually. One was a fan and as such, even socially, somehow recognised. There were even often reports of such fans on television because they dedicated their whole lives to their following and this somehow attracted people. In this way, new fans were also created, who otherwise played a rather insignificant role in life, but through their unconditional love for their club, to which they even gave their entire fortune, which they had saved from their mouths, and made a lot of compromises and took on a lot of suffering, just to remain loyal to their club and accompany them through thick and thin.”
“As logical as that sounds, it doesn’t seem to have worked out completely? Earlier, didn’t you say that they often booed their kickers when things weren’t going so well?”
“Very clever and accurately observed. Right. Those kinds of fans were also taking more and more out of it. They felt that their unconditional devotion warranted something in return, which was often not forthcoming. Just to give you an extreme example: when Schalke had a bad season, a few of these fans ran onto the pitch after another lost game and snatched the armband from the captain of their team because he was allegedly not worthy of wearing the jersey and the armband. So these kind of fans had, from their point of view, added rights, also prescribed to them by the media because they were so loyal, while many of the kickers just wanted to skim and run away. It was a bit contradictory overall, that may be, but it was not pleasing either way. Neither for the fans nor for the other spectators – who often only saw the games on the sports channel but still had enough reason to be angry about this, that and the other.