The Last Word: Supporting a second smaller club could be just the ticket
Forget the Cissé perfume that costs less than entry to Arsenal and smell proper football again
Sunday 13 January 2013
Protest is built into the business plan. As dissident Manchester City fans spend this afternoon in the pub rather than at the Emirates, a poor wretch at the Premier League is doubtless devising a rebuttal strategy for anyone who dares to doubt the incipient generosity of the Attendance Working Group.
Richard Scudamore's Marie Antoinette moment will probably involve a variation on the theme suggested by Stoke's chief executive, Tony Scholes: a free away travel initiative which will cost constituent clubs up to £800,000 of the £61.9 million TV income they are scheduled to receive next season.
It is a laudable idea, corporately responsible and focus-group friendly. The problem will be finding unanimity and creating a sense of urgency. The proposal will not be voted on until the summer, by which time football clubs will have concocted new methods of disposing of the disposable income of their supporters.
The tat already ranges from a tasteful wedding garter peddled by Tottenham to a Mr Potato Head in Manchester United red. Loyalty is a grow-your-own Anfield (a packet of seeds and a cardboard stadium) or a Manchester City nodding dog, which bears an uncanny resemblance to David Platt, Roberto Mancini's dutiful assistant.
Someone must buy this stuff and keep sweatshops solvent. Is it any wonder clubs barely bother to camouflage their contempt? Arsène Wenger, an economics graduate from Strasbourg University, argues that anyone who demurs from paying the going rate at Arsenal "can choose to go to Man Utd... or Man City".
As so often these days, Wenger is half-right. His logic works for the tourists courted by big clubs. Their visit to Old Trafford or the Emirates is a passive experience which creates a vacuum of neutrality. Allegiance can be transferred without offending tribal loyalty only if it takes the Pre-mier League out of the equation.
Then there is a real opportunity to alter the dynamics of the market. If the current spasm of outrage at ticket pricing is to be relevant, affirmative action is required on a consistent and co-ordinated basis. The Premier League can continue to exist as a slickly produced TV soap opera; it is time to revive the notion of supporting a second club in the lower Leagues.
The tradition already exists to a limited degree on Merseyside. To steal the sentiments of a banner I saw at Tranmere, a club so cost-conscious staff literally ration the tea bags: "Where there is faith, there is light and strength". Prenton Park is a symbol of its community.
Clubs such as Bury, Rochdale and Oldham shiver in the shadow of Manchester's giants, but are a reminder of what football has sacrificed in an age of homogeneity and global opportunism.
London has alternative attractions which do not require a mortgage. A visit to the New Den is both a forbidding and a reaffirming experience. Brentford are a quietly progressive club with a far-sighted youth policy and an emerging manager, Uwe Rösler. Even Barnet have the macabre fascination of watching a legend, Edgar Davids, in penury.
The alternative is the pretension embodied by Djibril Cissé, an under-achieving footballer in an underwhelming team. The Queens Park Rangers striker, who acquired the title of Lord of the Manor of Frodsham in his Liverpool days, wishes to share his good fortune with the great unwashed.
Mr Lenoir, his newly launched fragrance, is described as "woody, spicy and amber". It apparently derives from "a blend of notes of bergamot, lavender, black pepper, cashmere wood, cardamom, labdanum, patchouli, vanilla and musk".
At £59 for a small bottle, it is cheaper than an away ticket at Arsenal. Bargain.
Dangers must be tackled head on
It is dangerous to make direct comparisons between rugby union and American football, but they are ominously instructive.
Each is a confrontational sport, shaped by a similar culture. Big boys don't cry. They get up and get on with the game. Concussion is accepted as a hazard of working life.
The endgame occurred in midweek, when neuro- scientists at the National Institutes of Health, an American research facility, released a starkly significant report.
They had analysed the brain tissue of Junior Seau, the gridiron star who committed suicide in May, and concluded that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.
Patients with CTE, which can only be diagnosed after death, display symptoms such as impulsiveness, forgetfulness and depression. The disease is thought to be central to a spate of suicides among NFL players, reported by Tom Dart on these pages last week.
Rugby lacks the relentless percussive punishment endured by linemen like Seau. But hits are getting bigger. Careers are getting shorter. The temptation to take one for the team is acute.
As we enter the Six Nations season, that traditional rite of passage, warning bells should be sounding.
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