‘Don’t those people need that money? Maybe, but they need football too.’ It stunned Fergus Sutter or so The English Game tells us but it could just be creative leeway. Either way, in its own way, the tv show showed just how much people depended on football before it was truly football.
Because this show does, after all, take place towards the end of the 1800s. It’s when England struggled with severe poverty, jobs were being taken away and no money earned but more importantly, football was played at an amateur level. Yet if the English Game is right, then it showcased just how much football meant to people. So much so, that they were willing to sacrifice what must have been a small fortune to them to pay just for travel. Just so that they could watch their home side of Darwen take part in an FA Cup game that they had little chance of winning.
It’s the way the world has always worked when too comes to football. Somehow, no matter what state the world is in or who was ruling it, football thrived and did so majestically. Francisco Franco, the former Caudillo of Spain, saw it best and yet there was nothing he could do to stop it. It was a strange and yet terrible time for Spain and yet football gave them hope. Football gave them a method to let out their anger and express themselves. Because for something that is essentially nothing more than a lackadaisical kickabout between 22 men and a ball, football has a staggering amount of influence.
Benito Mussolini, much like Franco, saw the power football had and he tried to use it for his own good. He saw, much like Franco once did, how wonders on the field could create wonders off it and give the people a sense of purpose, a new sense of patriotic spirit so to say and he sought to channel that for himself. To put it simply, it worked until it didn’t and somehow did exactly what Mussolini never wanted it to do. Gave people hope, a will to fight even in their darkest of days.
Coventry City and Derby County would wholeheartedly agree with that statement and so would Sunderland AFC. Their documentary (Sunderland ‘till I die) is nothing but a gut punch after gut punch after gut punch after gut punch and yet at the end, their fans simply refuse to give up. Whether that’s because of the way they are built or because of how much the Black Cats mean, either way, it’s a testament to exactly what football is and can do. Now that’s the past, but the past few weeks or so has been hell for anyone associated with football and just sport in general. Stuck at home, grounds barred, a global pandemic slowly and yet steadily infecting, what hopefully isn’t, the whole world and yet the people don't have their ultimate distraction.
In truly trying times like this football, and sport in general, helps distract us from what truly are terrible tragedies. But in a world without any football, how does football survive? That was the quintessential question asked and that has been the question that has run through minds especially after the news that the Champions League and Europa League alongside almost every other season in Europe and the world have been postponed indefinitely. And yet football thrives. Somehow, its managed to adhere to the sheer fact that no matter what happens, that the void can be partially filled. That’s partly thanks to the age of social media and that wonderful and utterly majestic tool called the Internet.
It has allowed football to thrive and thrive wonderfully well and why? Because it’s our version of a Tardis. It may not take us where we want to go but it will take us where we need to go. Missed the chance to watch Ronaldinho in his prime? Never mind that, watch him tear apart his fellow prisoners in jail instead or rather watch post-game videos. That’s just as good and it’s utterly brilliant because somehow the man, dumb enough to create a fake passport to travel to a country he never needed one to do so, has still got it at 40.
Missed the chance to watch the 1958 World Cup, where Sweden beat Hungary, the Soviet Union and Germany on their way to the finals? The internet has got it and you'll gleefully ignore the terrible black and white quality. Argentina vs Peru in the South American U-20 Championship in 2005? Again, the internet has you covered and again, it's a willful suspension of disbelief. Wanna know why people call Ronaldo Nazario the real Ronaldo, other than the fact that he is actually the real Ronaldo? The internet smilies as you marvel at that man's genius ability. You name the competition, the year, the decade, the century, the game and even the player and the internet sends you trawling through time.
It’s like a smorgasbord of football although some may say far too much football but, that’s never ever true. And that’s not all, while Ronaldinho sat eating his well-earned smoked pig, the world around him changed. In the absence of top-flight football, non-league football has transformed overnight. A 16% uptick in attendance, despite the world’s insistence, to stay at home, in England with games hitting somewhere close to an average of 13,000 people. Then there's the Belarusian Premier League because it thrives ignorantly as if the entire world is not in a global shutdown. While stupidity and tractor therapy are no cure for idiocy or the coronavirus at least, as Alexander Hleb gleefully said, “It’s the only place in Europe you can play football. At least then the people of Belarus will be happy.”
They’re not just happy but they are overjoyed, as fans flood to watch Belarusian Premier League, and they’re not the only ones because the modern age has changed football. The money aspect will always play a part but that started with the advent of globalisation. Social media and the modernisation of the internet from more than just a dial-up connection, on the other hand, has taken football to a level that few believed was possible. It’s immortalized the beautiful game but more importantly, curfew breakers, fools around the world and even ridiculous hashtag trends has all proved what the world already knew.
That James Milner is football’s funniest man, after Peter Crouch naturally, and the fact that football is the sporting world’s Jellyfish. Invincible and more than capable of rising up from its very ashes if and when need be. Corruption, murder and a hellfire of greed bring it down to its knees? Not a problem. World War 1 and 2 brings the world to a standstill? Still not a problem. A global pandemic sends six billion people, barring those Indians walking about and banging plates, running home?
A superb photo of Angel Di María celebrating with the PSG fans who gathered outside Parc des Princes. pic.twitter.com/Koxp2qyIw7— Natter Football (@NATTERFOOTBALL) March 12, 2020
Slight problem, until there wasn’t one. Somehow football has managed to fall from its pedestal gracefully, burst into a pile of ashes exactly like Fawkes and then effortlessly rise back up with an even greater conviction to it. There’s a photo somewhere out on the interweb, that proves that rather nicely. It’s a truly majestic photo and might just be because of the way the photographer clicked it. But either way, it portrays Angel Di Maria celebrating at the top of the Parc Des Princes and right below him stands millions, or what seems like millions, of fans celebrating with him.
It was taken after one of the last top-flight football games were played and it was played behind closed doors. Yet despite a global pandemic, they're standing outside the stadium with not a care in the world and it shows just how much the game means. Now to put it into context, this is Paris Saint-Germain. Not Boca Juniors, there is a photo of that as well, not River Plate, not Liverpool, not Olympique Marseille or even Manchester United. But oil-funded, heavy money investing, super-team creating, PSG. Says everything, doesn’t it?