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 FA Cup

With everything that has been going on with FIFA and with getting quoted in the Telegraph, I haven’t had chance to blog about last weekends FA Cup final.

Being a massive Arsenal fan, I sat and watched with great joy as we won the game 4 – 0 with one of the goals being a goal to remember. This is the second year in a row that Arsenal have won the cup, with this latest triumph breaking records for FA Cup wins. To go throughout two years of a competition without being beaten is a spectacular achievement.

After so many trophyless seasons at Arsenal it is great to be winning things regularly again, as it seems in football success is only judged by trophies won if you are a big club. I think this is sad as I think there are many ways to judge success but that is the pressure the big clubs are under where winning is everything.

Now Arsenal have the FA Cup it won’t mean as much to win it again next season and won’t been seen as a big success to win it. Arsenal will now be expected to challenge on so called bigger fronts like the Premier League and Champions League.

I think Arsenal are a team going in the right direction and are building a solid base to grow form and be successful for a long time. I am proud to be an Arsenal fan and I think our time is coming soon. We’ve had to wait a while for it but I think it will be worth it when it comes.

Keeping our manager Arsene Wenger for as long as we have I think will pay long-term dividends. We are different to nearly every other club which seems to have a hire and fire mentality and seem to have teams of egos and mercenaries.

Our playing style has developed this year which is great to see but the philosophy remains and I for one can’t wait to see what next season brings.

Does corruption and money go hand in hand?

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FIFA stole the headlines around the world last week, when 7 of its influential members were arrested, with a total of 14 under investigation for corruption:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32895048

FIFA have been seen by many as one of the most corrupt sporting organisations out there for some time now, so news of corruption within its ranks comes as little or no shock, but the actual arrests did. FIFA have seemed in some ways untouchable and above the law for sometime now and this is the way I expected it to continue. Organisations in the US however had other ideas and hopefully the law can now start dealing with this organisation, as with the re-election of Sepp Blatter, I don’t think it is going to happen from within.

The pursuit of money

I don’t think the game of football makes people corrupt. I think it is the pursuit of money and the feeling to entitlement of money, because of the amount that is flowing around the world of professional football that does. When there are people playing the sport and running businesses associated with the sport that are making millions out of it, does being on the governing committee of the sport make you feel you deserve to earn lots of money too?

A governing body is supposed to be run for the good of the game and not for making huge profits. So when a governing body has people in it that want to earn lots of money from that position, they have to do it in other ways than through the work of the organisation.

Gaining favour

When you have people in a governing body that get to vote on decisions that can lead to billions of pounds of business for companies, then those companies are going to do whatever it takes to get the business. If the outside world knows an organisation is corrupt, then they know how to deal with them and how to gain favour with them.

I think it is sad that corruption and money seem to go so hand in hand as there are lots of great things that can be done with money. I hate what money can do to some people. Some people get in to business and organisations for the right reasons, but over time lose sight of these and end up being blinded by money.

Strength to fight

Having the internal strength to fight against becoming blinded by money, when many around you have already lost their fight, I imagine is very hard. When you see people in similar positions getting far more money than you, it brings its own sense of injustice, but it is important that we don’t judge ourselves by others standards.

I wish we had people in power all over the world that are less easy to corrupt and that investigations weren’t needed. I wish it wasn’t so easy to hide financial dealings that aren’t above board. I think we would all be very shocked if we knew what went on behind the scenes and off the books at many companies that we as a society buy in to.

With football being more about money these days than the sport, I can’t sadly see when corruption in the game will end, if ever. I will however continue to hope that more can be done to tackle this problem in the coming years and it is made harder for those that wish to profit illegally from the game.

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.

Selling the game

It’s been a bad news week this week if you are a fan of what many people call the national game of England, that being football (or soccer for my American readers).

The TV rights to screen games from our biggest league ‘The Premiership’ have been sold to Sky and BT for a staggering £5.136bn, which is 71% above the amount they paid for TV rights last time they were sold. Here is a news story about this development:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31379128

The clubs in the leagues are probably rubbing their hands together, as this sale of rights means more money will filter through to the clubs, which will make their balance sheets look healthier give them capital to build stadiums, ability to buy new players and more chances to secure loans or credit.

I think the clubs and the league will be the only winners though. To access football matches legally in the UK through Sky and BT, you either have to have a paid subscription or pay for their other products and services. Both Sky and BT are businesses and need to make money from these deals, so that leaves the fans in a bad place.

The Rich get richer

I’m sure the money the clubs make through these deals will keep some fans happy though, as some will use the increased revenues to buy big name players to excite and entertain their fans. These players will get paid a ridiculous amount of money and may or may not bring success to their club. Whilst the wages of the super rich footballers I’m sure will increase with this deal, I’m sure the average earnings of the fans that pay their money to support them won’t increase at anywhere near the same rate.

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The problem with the TV rights deal is that it starts a domino effect on the money earned and spent by those in the game, as it filters from Sky to the Premier League, then to the clubs and then to the players. People are already speculating that this TV deal may be the catalyst for the record transfer fee and wages for a player to be broken again. Even though the money coming in may be going up, the costs for the TV providers and the clubs I think will be going up significantly in the next 4 years because of it.

Business

Sky and BT will need to claw their outlay back and this is where I think the fans are going to be hit in the pocket. The easiest way for them to do this is by increasing the costs for their subscriptions and to increase the lengths of contracts you have to commit to in order to watch the games.

The next way they will claw their outlay back is through advertising. I think we can expect to see more on screen advertising during games and coverage, more paid for advertising on their online and social media streams, then finally probably more advert breaks or longer advert breaks in the build up, half time and post match.

Open Letter

Last year I blogged my ‘Open Letter’ to the football world which can be seen here:

https://adamsibley.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/open-letter-to-football-teams-players-staff-and-tv-companies-that-screen-football-in-the-uk/

Following on from this weeks news, I think this problem that I blogged about last year is only going to get worse. Sky and BT will be more desperate than ever for more advertisers and higher spending advertisers, so all I can see is betting adverts around football increasing.

Aggressive advertising

More betting adverts, more aggressive betting advertising and closer links between TV companies and betting companies will only see more people betting on football, which I think is a problem. Again (as I did in my blog last year) I stress that I am not anti-betting but I think for a good percentage of people that an aggressive advertising assault encouraging them to bet, could lead them in to financial problems and addictions.

We need to remember that it’s the betting companies that make the most from gambling, not the customers. Betting companies, like Sky and BT need to make a profit and for betting companies they will have to make more money to afford price hikes in advertising costs.

Pressure

With more at stake than ever for Sky and BT the pressure to make more money has been increased. The boards and shareholders will want to see returns on their investments and I am sure if these deals aren’t as successful for them as they had hoped, that it could have massive implications on their companies and their staff.

Inflated bubble

To fund what is becoming an ever over inflated bubble it will be the fans that lose out. I think for long-term success it is important to get as many people watching the game as possible, but all I can see long term is people turning away from the game. It won’t happen overnight but if we continue at this rate for the next 20 years, I dread to think what the sport will be like.

Competition

Those that know me personally will know I am a fan of Arsenal (an English football team in the Premier League). The team has a reputation for not being able to do what is needed to win the big games and beat the big teams. The team plays in a certain way and never change it, no matter who they are playing. This was up until yesterday, as Arsenal went away to play the defending champions, completely changed the way they play and won the game 2 – 0.

This got me thinking about personal development and competition. To succeed in life you need to have belief in yourself and what you are doing but I think that needs to be balanced with finding the right way to succeed, which may not always be the path, you want to take.

In media and performance art you need to know your audience. In business you need to know your competitors and your customers. In life, you need to know who the people are that can help you get where you need to go. Only a select few people and companies succeed without adapting and changing to beat who they are competing with or to win the crowd they want to entertain.

In all areas of life it is wise to know who your competition is, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and how you can beat them or be better than them. With that information you can find a way to adapt and compete, which is what you need to do in order to succeed.

If you want long term success you need to be able to adapt, as the more versatile you are the more problems you will be able to solve and the more versatile you are the harder it is for people to compete with you. If you always do things the same way, you will get left behind and found out.

This world moves at a staggering pace and we need to be able to move with it in order to succeed. What might have worked yesterday may not work today. Don’t forget that one victory doesn’t make success, its what you do after that victory that will determine how successful you are going to be in life.

The blurred world of TV personalities and social media

Regular readers of the blog will know I am a big fan of football. Last night I was watching the FA Cup Match between AFC Wimbledon and Liverpool on the BBC. Like many fans, whilst watching games I will normally be on Twitter making comments on the game and seeing what other people are saying about the game.

The host for the programme was Gary Lineker and during the game whilst he wasn’t on camera he was tweeting from his personal Twitter account. One of his tweets contained a swear word which he later then blamed on auto-correct. No one will ever know besides Gary if he did tweet the swear word intentionally or not but I think it does raise an interesting situation.

Gary is paid a salary by the BBC, which is funded by License Fee paying members of the general public. He like anybody else has the right to have their own Twitter account and tweet their own views. On top of this I know Twitter is a great platform to promote TV shows as well, so I think it is good that TV personalities use their own following to drum up support and viewers for a show.

With all that said though, I do think when you are working you are representing the company you work for during that period of time. I am sure there are policies about swearing on air but do TV companies and the like have policies about engaging with social media whilst live on air?

I think what you say on twitter should be treated the same as if you were to say something out loud. I think in many ways we have wised up to that as a world with the police getting involved in trolling, bullying and threats made on social media. Celebrities need to be more careful than most on Twitter as they have so much to lose with an accidental or mistaken tweet.

If someone is tweeting from their own personal twitter account whilst working are they increasing their own brand and awareness whilst being paid to do a job? If so is this right? Should the employer have the right to stop people from tweeting whilst working or have control over what they are tweeting?

Many people in all kinds of lines of work will tweet whilst working. Some will have on their profile that their views are their own and not the company they work for and some won’t ever mention the company they work for to try and avoid any problems. If a person is synonymous with the job they do or the company they work in, I think it is nearly impossible for what they say on social media not to be associated with that job or company.

As I say in lots of my blogs about social media, it is an ever-evolving thing, which evolves at a rate of knots. This makes it hard for policies and procedures to keep up and remain relevant. In a lot of cases on social media it takes something to happen for people to have an opinion on whether it is right or wrong and for a procedure or policy to be put in to place. I think the situation last night was case in point.

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.

Feeling Privileged

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of being able to go to Wembley Stadium and do Audio Description for the NFL International Series game, between Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders for Alan March Sport Ltd.

Thanks to good friends and hard work I have been afforded many great opportunities in life and this is one of them. It is such a privileged position to be able to work at an event that many have paid vast sums of money to attend, to be able to contribute to the event is such an amazing feeling.

This Saturday I will be far away from the glitz and glamour of Wembley and the NFL, I will be at Home Park home of Plymouth Argyle who currently play in League 2 the lowest league of professional football (soccer) in England, doing Audio Description on their game with Shrewsbury. With less than 10% of the crowd size that attended Wembley the game on all levels will be completely different.

The size of the event doesn’t change the fact that I am in a privileged position again getting to attend a game that many will pay to go to and doing a job that many others would like to do. Plymouth Argyle is where I started doing Audio Description and now 6 years in, I make sure to remember the feeling I got when I first got the position and did my first game.

Going to live sporting events is exciting and having the privilege to be involved them makes it all that much better. I think it is important that no matter what we do or achieve that we don’t belittle it and that we celebrate it. If you’re proud of something don’t be afraid to be proud of it and don’t justify how you feel by the size or scope of what you do.