This feeling isn’t just the January blues; it could be a perennial problem for football. But maybe an opportunity to reassess what we really find beautiful in the ‘beautiful game’ is exactly what we need, writes Laura Lawrence.
Christmas and New Year would usually be full of football chat with friends and family, with a Boxing Day gathering to coincide with our team’s home fixture. But Covid saw off the match and the chat was distinctly absent.
I’ve noticed a general malaise kicking in among football fans – and this is not just because I’m surrounded by Sheffield Wednesday fans who have little to cheer. Across the football spectrum, supporters are voicing their apathy about the game, and not just about the state of their club.
I’ve seen a trend of supporters who have followed their clubs for 20, 30, even 40 years saying they’ve had enough. They don’t feel the joy anymore and they are making the decision to stop attending or to lend their support to non-league teams.
I was reading a thread on a football forum started by a Brentford fan who, despite the club being in its most successful period ever and enjoying enviable new facilities, they have given up their season ticket after supporting the club since 1966. They made a cogent argument of why they felt the hassle of the matchday experience wasn’t worth it anymore.
I agreed with a lot of what they said: matches moving at short notice for TV, VAR, travel issues, and player and fan behaviour. Brentford are a shining light, a successful club with a business model that doesn’t involve being a rich man’s toy or spending beyond their means. If they can’t keep their fans interested, what chance to ailing clubs sloshing in debt have?
Many other fans were agreeing with the Brentford fan and sharing their stories about giving up the game.
So what’s brought about this change? I posed this question on social media to see if fans are really falling out of love with football, and why. The majority said while they loved their club, they don’t like the game much anymore.
The thought occurs that this happens to every generation; we look back and think that things were ‘better in our day’. The Christmas Top of The Pops made me feel ever more like my father, because I’d never felt more disconnected from modern music. I’m sure when I was in my youth the middle-aged fans were disenfranchised by the birth of the Premier League and changes modern football had made.
As we get older, we have kids or caring duties, a full-time job, errands to run, and places to be. Football is a leisure activity and if your main weekend activity, after a full week at work, is endless dreadful performances, then you can see where the love may be lost.
Surprisingly, one of the repeated complaints from the fans I spoke to was the playacting of players. The theatrics of professional footballers are chipping away at supporter’s tolerance.
Covid appears to have played a major part in fans being more introspective about why they watch the game. The stop-start nature of the previous two seasons and restrictions on fan attendance have definitely made people question, in the grand scheme of what’s happening in life: is it really worth it?
This feels more entrenched than a temporary dissatisfaction. Fans have felt locked out of their clubs for a long time. It wasn’t until they were physically locked out that they re-evaluated and re-adjusted their feelings for football.
The spark that remains seems to be for an increased pleasure in participation and an interest in local non-league clubs. Maybe it’s time for grassroots football to ignite our passion for the game once again.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR