Today, the floor at Twohundredpercent has been given over to our friends over at The Onion Bag. Our thanks to them.
Hello, we’re from the Onion Bag, maybe you’ve heard of us, maybe you’ve read some of sideways glances at the modern game, maybe you got bored after a while and deciding to look at porn instead, maybe your wife walked in on you, maybe things haven’t been quite right since, maybe you’re getting fed up of us saying maybe. Maybe.
It’s rare for us to be given the opportunity to write anything that should be vaguely taken notice of. Since 2003, the Onion Bag has been cocking a snoop at the game, and let me tell you that’s a lot of cocking. Week in and week out we’ve been blowing raspberries and mocking both friends and foe. However, over the years we have slowly developed defined views on the game and deep concerns about its condition. What follows though is not a polemic against the usual suspects but against another footballing institution that is becoming increasingly beyond reproach: Supporters.
Broadly, the Onion Bag’s philosophy is this: the beautiful game is still beautiful, but everything surrounding the game is morally bankrupt – players, staff, administrators, sponsors, owners, and the media – and all should be treated with the contempt they thoroughly deserve. But these targets are far too easy. It’s the supporters and their new untouchable status that causes us as much consternation and, if anything, makes them easier to lampoon.
The media’s portrayal of fans over the last twenty years has changed hugely from mindless idiots to passionate stakeholders. But this sea change hasn’t come about through any ideological movement it’s purely down to the fact that everyone knows that fans spend big and ask for so little in return. There was a time all you could really sell to the fans was a ticket and maybe a programme, now we have club shops bursting with replica shirts, mugs, training tops, summer hats, winter hats, souvenir guitars and and loads of other crap that every real fan shouldn’t be without. Big business wants your green – but only if you’re a proper fan, only if you love your club. You do love your club don’t you? Well OK then, we’ll allow you to spend real money to come and watch us in some piss poor pre-season tournament in Minsk. And supporters have gone along with it. Fooling themselves into thinking that they’re important: going to a game is seen as duty, criticism is heresy. Not going would be considered the ultimate betrayal of a very one-sided relationship.
What are they in love with? What is it that creates this bond between the fan and a body corporate. The players, well they come and go as do staff. The ground, it’s a base but let’s face it you’d watch them in the park. The town they represent? Erm, no still not there. It’s almost impossible to pin down, only when the ties are strained or even severed do we start to question why.
Manchester United fans idea of protesting against overpricing at Craven Cottage was to not buy a programme, food or use any other paid services within the ground. It didn’t seem to occur to them to picket the ground and boycott the match. When a Hereford supporter was barred from Edgar Street for life because someone else posted a number of disparaging remarks about Graham Turner on his message board, the idea of direct action was greeted like someone suggesting a sponsored granny gang rape.
You may argue than supporters are not a united group but a collection of individuals that can’t be coordinated in such a way as to boycott matches or take other forms of direct action. However, the protests by West Ham fans in the early 90’s against the Upton Park debenture scheme and the AFC Wimbledon story would suggest otherwise.
The Wimbledon/MK Dons story is analogous to a relationship. Basically, Wimbledon fans got dumped. Fed up with renting, their girlfriend left them for someone else and moved to another town. Now of course, if you’re Wimbledon fans mates you’ll have every reason to call her a slag, but let’s face it, you and Wimbledon never really got on, did you. And now look at them they seem to be getting on with their own lives just fine now, maybe it was never meant to be. Domestics, best keep your nose out of them – I hear Leeds has walked into another cupboard door.
But we’re not saying these things to just piss people off or to be deliberately contrary, for the most part at least. Up to now we have had a lot of fun riffing on other people’s pain (a hell of a lot of fun). But there’s nearly always a serious issue beneath it all and we seriously hope that reading a load of nonsense might actually start a debate that really challenges certain pre-conceptions about the game and encourage others to extol or defend their positions and challenge others. If you read blogs like the Guardian or the Times Online, the debate is intelligent for the most part but tends to descend into chaos and abuse along club lines after a while. Often the debate is based around what happens on the pitch detracting from the really debatable stuff surrounding the politics and economics of the game.
Here’s an idea: let’s make a forum based on considered debate. An online think tank if you will where people who think and write about the game (but are not in the game either as player, coach or journalist) debate its condition, the price of admission, the influence of TV, the Champions League cartel, the price of the dog track at Plough Lane. A place where ideas, no matter how whacked out or ludicrous they may sound can be discussed and scrutinised both logically and emotionally. A place where bloggers and blog readers meet and bang the footballing world to rights. Something a bit like this place – but with hookers and blackjack.