Back in the late 1970’s TV cameras were only present at a few chosen games. Chelsea would be on TV six or seven times a season, there where no videos, you watched TV on Saturday or Sunday or you missed it. You supported your local team or had family connections to the team you supported. TV is bad for football. It always has been, it’s a thousand times worse in the modern days of live games and big money. I recall the first inclinations I had of the negative affect TV and the success you see on TV can have on our game. I was 16 in the early summer of 1978 and I went for a nostalgic walk past my old junior school. I noticed a kid with a blue football bag. As I was some way away from him, I could not make out the name of the team but I expected to read Chelsea, Millwall or QPR; i.e. a “blue” London team. We passed each other a minute later, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the name of the team;.. Ipswich Town. Now the only reason to support them in London would be if you had just moved into the area from .eh…well…Ipswich. I had welcomed Ipswich’s FA cup win a few weeks prior to this, saved me a lot of headaches from a couple of cocky Arsenal fans I played 5-a-side with on Sunday evenings. So I stopped this kid and congratulated him on the cup win, asked him where he was from, turned out he lived near me, always had. He said he had supported Ipswich since the cup final because they won it, he said he cheered them on to beat Arsenal. Ipswich, he said, was a long way away, but he had a passport so he might go and see them on holiday. No point in explaining that this was the close season I thought so I left him in never-never land and walked on. If that kid continued to support Ipswich there is a very slim chance that he ever saw them play. But let’s say that he possibly went to some of their away games in London, he may even have gone to Ipswich a couple of times (If he got his visa), but what’s the chance that he ever became a genuine soccer fan, one who went every week.

If he had supported a team nearer home there is a far greater chance that his football supporter genes would have bloomed. Everyone is capable of becoming a soccer fan, given the right circumstances at the right time. If you don’t go to football as you grow up there is a strong possibility that you are going to fill your teenage life with other activities and football is minus 1 more fan.

I am utterly confined that this Ipswich boy has millions of “cousins” in England today. Except nowadays with all the live football thousands of kids grow up supporting a team they will never see. No one wants to admit to failure, everyone wants success, we are graded in school and compared to others from a very early age. Part of this one-upmanship amongst kids is the success of chosen team. For the youth of Bournemouth (for example) what’s going to win more brownie points supporting Bournemouth or Manchester Utd. Bournemouth play in a division with a number, they are never on TV and are having severe financial problems. Man Utd are a rich successful club that is on TV nearly every week. The very name of the league, “Premier” conjures up thoughts of success, fame, power, position and glory. Add to that the superstar names in Man Utd and you have the total attraction for little Johnny to get one up on little Stevie, whose father has brought him up watching Bournemouth. Within weeks Stevie sees Liverpool beat Man Utd live on the box and whoops! another one bites the dust, Stevie now supports Liverpool to get his own back on Johnny. Football, in general, is minus two fans. There are exceptions to this of course, some people do grow up supporting a team from a distance. However, I feel I have the answer for the FA who wonder where all the fans have gone. I had e-mail contact with an anonymous Man Utd fan a few weeks ago, I had claimed that all Man Utd fans lived outside Manchester. He informed me that this was a myth, that an FA study had shown that only 3% of Utd fans at Old Trafford live more then 50 miles (80 km) from the ground.

In his vain attempt to defeat my argument he had proved it, even gave me the statistic. Thousands and thousands of kids all over the country have adopted Man Utd during the last 20 years, we all know that, we have seen them in every rec. anywhere a ball is kicked, wearing Man Utd shirts. Where are they now ? Utd have had so much success that their fans have had no reason to stop going or start supporting other teams. But with only 3% living more than 50 miles from Old Trafford the only conclusion is that these far-away supporters have no genuine interest in football. It would be better for the game if kids grew up supporting local sides where their footballing interest could develop in to something more than a sporadic pastime. I have used Man Utd as an example here, but this should not be seen as an attack on Man Utd, I could have picked any one of a number of top sides.

The greatest unfairness in all this is the way the TV revenue is divided. The big clubs take the lion’s share of the TV revenue, but also receive an invisible income from this. Because the bigger clubs are on TV more often they can sell their shirt adverts for a lot of money. Some small clubs are never on TV and find it very difficult to sell shirt adverts for a significant sum. The TV revenue should be divided equally between all the clubs in all divisions.

When shirt adverts were first allowed they were followed by several funny regulations. They could only be a certain size and could not be worn on TV matches. This served no other purpose than to get people used to seeing them, typical FA “phase-in”. Having seen most of my football in the days before the shirt adverts I had no idea they had any affect on the fans. I made a brief comeback as a regular towards the end of the 87-88 season. I met up with some of the old “boys” and we had decided to go up to Blackpool on the Saturday and watch the cup final Liverpool-Wimbledon in a hotel, the day after we were to go to Blackburn – Chelsea in the play-offs.

I had agreed to get the beer, they were going to pay me on the train. I opened my bag just outside Watford, and was promptly showered with British Rail sandwiches. I was called a whole host of names, traitor, basically. My mistake? – I had bought Holstein, my favourite beer at the time but the name of Tottenham’s main sponsors – my mates refused to touch the beer. Even though we were on the way up north and they wanted a drink, Holstein would not pass their lips. I was let off for this, but in my wildest dreams, I had no idea that this sponsor thing could have such an affect on people. Is it good for football, I’ll let you decide. I am not for or against shirt adverts, but I must admit I do like the old plain soccer shirts from my era. What’s next, adverts on the national shirts ? I’ll give it 5 years, tops.

On the cards?

I hear they are discussing some kind of video playback referee. This can not be further from the spirit of football. The laws governing soccer state that the referee’s word is final. A goal is scored when the ref. gives it, not when the ball crosses the line. As much as it is unfair, it is fair, it’s the same for both sides.

Some decisions can not even be made with a camera. At a QPR game in 1977 an Arsenal defender jumped up with Mancini of QPR and scored an own-goal, this was shown clearly on the big match the following day. The week after I went to QPR with Chelsea, in the QPR program it said, “the camera sometimes lies”: They had credited the goal to Mancini, because he had said that he definitely connected with the ball. This sums up the biggest argument against cameras. If they settle for a system with a video ref. who is given 20-30 seconds to make his mind up he may make a mistake, and it may turn out the real ref. was right anyway. What about the 66 final, was it or wasn’t it over the line, even with 31 years to study the film of Geoff Hurst’s goal no-one is sure.

For every Englishman who says “YES” there is a German who says “NEIN”. But the ref. gave it, on the day, at the time, so it WAS a goal, it does not matter if it went over the line or not. That’s football. This is one change I would not welcome in soccer, let us have something left, please. Just in case someone from the FA happens to read this I’ll leave one more comment on this subject: Many different methods are being discussed, although I am, in theory, against this, it may well be instigated anyway. If you have to do it, consider this method. Give each manager 3 challenge cards at the start of the match. And just as they used to play the joker on TV’s “It’s a knockout” the manager can choose when to use his challenge cards. Each manager would be able to question the ref.’s decision 3 times during the game. Limiting the number of disputes in this way would mean that only very dubious decisions would be challenged. Then the ref. could go over to a TV-monitor and make the call himself.

Having said all this I do feel that each generation tries to impose a favourable view of football in their day onto the following generation. We suffered the same, we were made to feel like we had missed out on something: the days when a centre forward could bundle a goalkeeper and the ball into the back of the net: “Fair Charge” they called it. The very fact that football has maintained it’s popularity in England proves something, however I do feel that the warning signs are worse than they have ever been. Bigger teams are growing, smaller teams are finding it very hard. The one time in football’s history that FA regulations are needed and they lie dormant to it.

Produced with permission of the author of the Missing Link website.

Peter Sampson: I would like to personally thank the author of the Missing Link website, who wants to remain anonymous. I first came across the site on its inception and I have been trying to track the guy down ever since after a brief exchange of email concerning a Chelsea fixture in Norwich. Luckily he turned up on Facebook. The author tells me that he may be updating the site really soon.

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