Why I will never understand football fans

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In the UK, the football (soccer) season started for most professional teams this weekend just gone. After a couple of months since the last ball was kicked in anger, fans from across the UK were chomping at the bit to watch their favourite teams play, select their Fantasy Football team and start commenting about games on social media.

I love the game of football and have been a fan for as long as I can remember. Like everyone else I had been looking forward to the start of the season so I could start cheering on my team and watch Match Of The Day again, a TV show which is an institution to so many fans.

Dark Ages

Football is sold as a game that can unite the world, but sadly I think in this country it is a game that people want to use to cause divides between them and other fans. In a world where inclusivity and acceptance of people from all walks of life is on the rise (thankfully), I think football is still stuck in the dark ages. It is not deemed as acceptable to hurl an insult or abuse at someone who is different from you in life, yet for football fans it is seen as the norm to insult and abuse opposition teams and the fans of opposition teams.

This is just one of many bugbears I have with the fans of this game. It’s like when your team wins, it is a great feeling and one to be enjoyed but sadly to many this isn’t enough, instead they feel the need to poke fun at the opposition and their fans. As football fans we all know how it feels to lose (it doesn’t feel great) so in the knowledge of this I don’t know why any fan of the game would want to go out of their way to make that experience even worse for another.

School ground mentality

Sometimes I feel like most football fans still have the school ground mentality of bullying and ganging up on someone because it is seen as the fun or cool thing to do. I don’t see why people get their kicks out of provoking people and rubbing it in their faces when the team they support beat another.

I enjoy watching any game of football, regardless of who is playing, just to enjoy the sport. It seems other fans however enjoy watching games that don’t feature the team they support, just to give them ammunition to mock the fans of that team, which to me just seems like such a waste of time.

I just want to enjoy the game and I don’t want my enjoyment of the game to come at the price of anyone else’s enjoyment. I know I am in the minority but I wish more were like me. Sadly I know that insulting, laughing at or abusing other teams and fans is a big part of fan culture, that people get great enjoyment from, I just want to opt out of it and enjoy the high & lows of the season as they unfold. Celebrating the victories, commiserating the defeats, watching great football no matter who is involved and congratulating others when they have success.

The Power of Football

I was out walking in a neighbouring city the other evening and saw something which made me stop and think.

Whilst I was walking, I walked past a Bar that was showing a football match and they had one TV that pointed out to the road so any passer by could stop and watch. In front of this TV was a homeless man. He had set his piece of cardboard down, sat down and seemed hooked on the match, to the point that the rest of the world around him didn’t seem to exist. This man was reacting to every close shot and every bad decision by the referee, he probably looked a lot like I do when I sit and watch at home.

Enjoying the Game

In the short time that I was there no one tried to move him on and no one bothered him, which was nice to see. Like any football fan he seemed to just want to enjoy the game of football and was allowed to do so. This event helped put football further in to prospective for me.

The game of football is an international phenomenon, played at the top level by people who will earn more in a month than I might earn in my lifetime. It is a game that now in this country if you want to follow it live on TV you have to pay obscene amounts of money to the likes of Sky, Virgin and BT Sport.

Key Strengths

Football is a game you get caught up in, a game that can give you something to look forward to and a game that can help you forget your troubles. These are the things that I think are its key strengths and I hate that in this country that it isn’t accessible to all.

I think more needs to be done at higher levels to make this sport more accessible. In a classroom of kids, for those that are in to football there shouldn’t be a class divide over football, where there are some kids who have parents that can afford the subscriptions to watch the games and some that can’t.

Lets Help Others

I would love to live in a world where those that can afford the subscriptions to watch live football invite people over to their home to watch games, people who they know can’t afford the subscription but enjoy the game. If I lived next to the street I think I would be tempted to put a TV up to the window for passers by to watch the game.

Lets use football, lets share football, lets do something ourselves, if more and more people are going to be priced out of the game lets bring them back in to the game. To the man I saw the other night, I hope you continue to enjoy football and that one day someone invites you in to watch a game with them.

Open Letter to football teams, players, staff and TV Companies that screen football in the UK

Dear Football Community,

I am writing to ask very kindly if you would all reconsider the level of betting and gambling adverts you display on your channels, social media feeds and websites.

I pay my subscriptions for your channels; I buy your merchandise and pay for tickets to watch games. I do this because I support football, however I am not doing this so I can be bombarded with betting advertisements. I know you are all businesses who need to make money and I don’t begrudge that, but can this not be done at the expense of the fan who is already paying so much to follow a sport they love.

You all do fantastic things in the community, so please don’t forget that community when looking at other areas of your business. Your community is made up of young impressionable people, people battling financial hardship and people who struggle with addiction. Now I wouldn’t say I fit in to any of those categories but it doesn’t mean I want to be bombarded with betting advertisements either. Most of you must have had young people in your family at some point and many of you will have had people you know battle addictions or fall on bad financial times. Next time you think about signing a lucrative deal with a betting firm can you keep these people in your mind and ask yourself if you would want them being bombarded with these adverts?

Could you all also take a minute to think about the long list of retired football professionals who have given us many hours of joy, but have found themselves battling addictions and financial hard times. Can we honour those heroes of the game with the way we display it today?

You have a captive market so please continue to captivate them with amazing games and interesting talking points. The power football has is an amazing thing and as guardians of it can you please use that power wisely. Lets make it a sport that anyone can watch and interact with, without having to worry about what they are watching.

I would like to challenge a club, a league or a TV company to become the first footballing entity that makes informed decisions on what if any betting adverts they allow to be displayed by their organisation and does it with their community in mind, not finances. Speak to your fans and viewers to see what they have to say. Look out in the crowd and see the child going to their first game with their parents, think to yourself – what messages do we want them to see? I would happily sit down with any football club, TV company or league to discuss the best way forward.

To end with I would like to say that I am not for censorship, I am not against peoples right to bet or the betting companies right to advertise, I am for the beautiful game and the supporters who deserve better from the game that they are so invested in.

Yours Faithfully Adam Sibley

Betting and the Beautiful Game

One thing I have noticed a lot this last year is the dangerous world of sport betting and the connection it has with the beautiful game (football or soccer if you are American) in the UK.

It used to be if you wanted to put a bet on a match that you would have to go to a betting shop. Now you have hundreds of free apps at your disposal for your phone, tablet or computer that will let you bet at a push of a button and from the comfort of your own home.

I think this is very dangerous, as now betting has become a convenience thing with no stigma attached to it. With the craze for game apps, has betting online through apps become a new game for some?

Alongside the rise of betting apps has been a rise in the connection between televised football and betting. First it started with betting companies paying for TV adverts around football matches, then it moved to betting companies sponsoring the programmes, now it’s moved to a point where on some games the betting adverts are on the screen when the players come out and you have live odds appearing.

This isn’t just happening for the evening games this is happening for the afternoon kick offs too. Many children and families are watching these games, yet the TV companies seem to care very little. Every year TV companies seem to be pushing the boundaries and finding new ways to advertise gambling as part of the programme, to either increase the money they get from betting companies or to keep their money and not lose them to a competitor.

Throughout any live game you are being enticed to bet. With live odds being shown before kick off and at half time. This is coupled with lots of betting promotions including free bets, cashback and the ability to cash out at any time. Not only do you have all this but you also have a million and one different things you can bet on throughout the game. This is before talking about the fact that you have the ability to bet on practically any game happening anywhere in the world.

The message put across is that betting and football go hand in hand. A message that says betting is part of the experience and will help you enjoy the game more. I remember seeing one betting advert of some lads walking to a football game and they were on their phones putting a bet on and coming home to check how they have done. I have also seen other adverts which are designed to make you laugh and to show that betting is great fun, are these messages we want our children to hear?

Not only are TV channels tightly linked to betting firms, lots of football clubs are too through sponsorship. First we have shirt sponsorship, then we have constant adverts on club websites and their social media feeds. Football clubs are supported by many families, with most clubs seemingly wanting to attract the family market and this is why it is dangerous. Now any 13 year old kid with access to the internet can see that the club they support, supports gambling and is encouraging their fans to do so. Betting on your team is now seen as a way to show your support and your allegiance.

If smoking and alcohol were promoted this excessively around football programming people would be up in arms but for something which can be equally addictive and bad for your health no one seems to care.

Football is a game which can capture the imagination and bring such a feel good factor. It is a game where clubs want to build allegiances with its fans in a band of brothers sort of way, but if the clubs really cared about their fans why would they want to risk their financial and mental wellbeing? To me that doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do.

I think the rise of betting sponsorship shows that the TV companies and football clubs will put their revenue streams ahead of their viewers and fans, whom without they couldn’t do what they do, as no fans means no business.