The state of the game..

Hopefully some of you took up the offer of a place at the discussion this evening at the Nottingham Council House I mentioned last week.  It was an interesting hour-and-a-bit setup as part of the by the Speakers’ Corner Trust to enable football fans to do just that – speak.  To share their thoughts, opinions, hopes and fears about the state of the game.  Given the state and standing of both Nottingham football teams (or all three Nottinghamshire teams, for that matter), it’s a provocatively apt venue for it to take place!

Rather than go into an attempt to document everything that was discussed (because I can’t remember!), I’ll try to summarise how it left me feeling afterwards.  I’ve written before on here about the ultimate futility of being a football supporter – particularly a lower league football supporter.  Painful though it is to admit, that is, as Forest fans, what we are.  If you break down exactly what it boils down to, people would be quite fair in questioning your sanity.

The whole 39th game nonsense which kicked off recently is the final proof – as if any were needed – that the Premier League is only interested in money, in maximising their markets, in exploiting the revenue potential in territories they only have a limited opportunity to penetrate.  Did you notice the language I used there?  It would be more suitable in a business briefing document than a sport book – there lies the nub, football is no longer a sport.

We go to watch our teams, Forest in our case, out of a mixture of blind faith, family ties, whatever originally pushed us into our alliegence.  We pay (in our case) over-inflated prices for the level of football we occupy, and we will our team to win.  If our team wins enough, we earn much needed promotion – which puts us into the Championship (division two).  It was this thought process that lead me to a fairly horrible thought, which isn’t new as I’ve written it before on these very pages.

You see, given how ludicrously uncompetitive the Premier League is, I don’t want to see us in it.  Because we wouldn’t compete.  We’d be like Derby are this season, getting a right royal spanking every week – on the face of it, for us, that’s quite funny – but it’s indicative of what a ridiculously unbalanced system our national ‘sport’ is built upon.  It wasn’t that long ago that Frank Clark (a panelist at the discussion) promoted Forest then finished 3rd in the top flight – a feat that at that time didn’t warrant a ‘Champions’ League place.

Can you imagine say, Watford doing that next season?  Whilst perhaps not impossible, it’s highly improbable without an obscene amount of investment beyond what we’ve already witnessed.  Which begs the question, what is the point in being a football fan at all?  Cynically I suppose you’d say it’s to line the pockets of players, agents and owners who bank on your loyalty to turn up regardless.  Simon Jordan said not that long ago that football is the only business where you can serve up shit and still get the punters coming back.

What a depressing state of affairs that is!  Keri Usherwood, the chairman of the Notts County Supporters Trust, raised the notion of allowing the ‘big’ clubs to breakaway to form their lucrative and greedy ‘super leagues’ – and frankly, the idea has more appeal the more I think about it.  Let them bugger off and leech as much cash as they can, and leave us with a league structure which is truly competitive for reasons other than just how much cash you have.  Of course, that’s never likely to happen, but it’s a nice pipe dream.

The other interesting notion he raised was that, funnily enough, about Supporters Trusts.  A chap present piped up that apparently some kind of meeting of minds is planned prior to tomorrow’s trip to Leyton Orient to start to think about just that kind of thing for Forest fans.  I struggle to rationalise how this can work, having some experience of reading the numerous Forest message boards, it would be a strong character who could deal with the routine barrage of insults, childishness and sniping that would inevitably ensue should such an organisation exist – let alone if it attained a presence in the boardroom at Forest.

I hadn’t heard anything relating to this suggestion before, the nature of the gentleman’s comments prior to this were very much in line with the kind of stuff you read on the ‘Free Forest’ website – which I partially have some sympathies with, although their slogan of cutting out the spin could well be back applied to their selective use of the financials on occasions.  But it’s something that has certainly piqued my interest, so I’ll be keeping an eye out.

Ultimately as fans we are the most important people, as a collective, the game has – without us there wouldn’t be one.  I hesitate to say we are consumers, but if Sky couldn’t sell us satellite TV on the back of football games, would they pump the money they do into the game?  Absolutely not.  As such, it is wholly appropriate that every club should have supporter representation on their board – but personally, I find it hard to imagine a group of supporters such as ours (and probably everyone else’s, I just know ours better!) ever being happy united behind any particular supporters trust structure, let alone an elected board representative.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong though.  So yes, basically the upshot of the discussion was it’s a pretty fruitless pursuit being a football fan these days – the trips to Wembley, the visits to places like Old Trafford with a realistic feeling of getting 3 points, all those things feel like they cannot be attained by a side that’s fallen as low as we have now – the game is so different now, and so uncompetitive.  It does start to make you wonder why you bother, of course, until matchday comes around again!

Speaking of which, it’ll be all quiet on the blog front ’til some point on Sunday when I’m back from what surely must be the turnaround point in our away form?  Mustn’t it?  Come on, we have to believe, don’t we?  Otherwise, what is the point of it all?

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