On Sunday morning, with the sun shining and the hangover just becoming bearable I wandered into a big tent and sat and listened to two grown men talk to me and the assembled audience for an hour and a half. Sunday morning, two men on the stage, discussing rites and rituals. Was I at Mass? Had I joined some sort of cult? No. Yes. The two men in question were Dave Simpson and Anthony Clavane and they were discussing football. And whether or not we thought it has lost its soul. So in a way this was a religious gathering. All those in there were converts to the various denominations; Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Chelsea, Everton, Burnley and Man City. But most were followers of the divine truth. Yes, most of us in attendance were Leeds fans.
Dave Simpson is author of a recent book “The Last Champions” the book tells the story of the Leeds United title winning team of 1992. The last ever Champions of the “old” First Division. The last time an Englishman managed a team to the pinnacle of the domestic game (Howard Wilkinson). And in his opinion the last hurrah before English football was sacrificed at the altar of the Premier League. His co-celebrant was Anthony Clavane, sports writer for the Sunday Mirror and author of his own book; “The Promised Land”. They had been brought together by the wonderful people at the Deer Shed Festival. Now this is usually a music festival but they, like the Northern Line, embrace all aspects of modern culture. So a book reading on a Sunday morning is perfect. They led a discussion that embraced all aspects of the game; ticket prices, hooliganism, racism and whether or not we would swap places with Man City fans? At the time I listened and at various points I wanted to add something to the debate. I wanted to be pedantic and tell Anthony it was 5-4 against Liverpool in 1991 and that David Batty did not score. I wanted to add to the Middlesbrough fan and his assessment of their only European final. He reckoned they would have won it if only their fans had not been so drunk. Similar to Leeds in the 1996 League Cup Final where most of us were so far gone we fought amongst ourselves rather than support our team. I wanted to agree and disagree in equal measure. It was an enthralling 90 minutes. End to end stuff. A show of hands at the final whistle would say a draw. So this is extra-time. I have thought long and hard and have come up with my own match winner. Like Carl Shutt in the Nou Camp. Nobody has heard of me but my 5 minutes of fame are fast approaching. As we left the tent in the glorious sunshine, off to see Malcolm Middleton, who’s new band (Human don’t be angry) are not nearly as good as his old band (Arab Strap). We hit the nail on the proverbial head. Everyone looks back with rose tinted spectacles. The Beatles were better than The Clash. The Smiths were better than Oasis. Spike Island was better than Heaton Park. People who were at the former tell those who weren’t that they missed out. It’s like those television shows which look at Kids TV and conclude it was better in the 70s? Really? Mary, Mungo and Midge was better than Spongebob Squarepants? Games were better? Monopoly was better than a Playstation? Fashion was better? Food was better? Beer was cheaper and so on and so forth. Rubbish. Things change. Things are different. Everyone thinks that what happened to them between the ages of 16 to 24 is the best thing that has ever happened. And depending on age this could be the Summer of Love in 67 or Rave in 87 or Oasis at Maine Road or Arctic Monkeys in 2005. Football is the same. Was an era of Heysel, The Bradford Fire and Hillsborough really better than football now? No, of course it wasn’t. I think football did lose its soul. It lost its soul in the 80s. Falling attendances; Leeds, Middlesbrough and Rangers etc had regular attendances of less than 10,000. Even Newcastle were often below 20,000. If football was so great why did nobody go? Fans being killed by fellow fans or by poor stadiums. Who would want a return to that? Football did lose its way and I think the events of the 80s sunk it so low it had only two options. Die. Or come back stronger. It came back stronger. Italia 90 kicked it back to life and then the revolution began. So has football lost its soul? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s just different now to how it was then. Like in the 70s and 80s it was different to the 50s and 60s. Yes players get too much money, or to be more precise, some, get too much money! The corporate whores who rattle their jewellery whilst tucking into their prawn sandwhiches having never actually paid to watch their team are a blight on the modern game. Foreign owners who care little for the club or community that they put money into, or more commonly, take money out of. Sponsors who take all the tickets to the big games. The price of replica shirts. The cost of getting a seat in the ground of your team. But these are today’s problems, what were yesterdays? Throwing bananas at black players, racist chants, getting soaked in a falling down, decrepit away end or getting rained on by bricks in a falling down decrepit away end. Having to run for your life outside the stadium. Chairman who bled the clubs dry. The FA taking all the tickets to the big games. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. Has football lost its soul? No. Football like life is eternal. It may lose its way at times. It may die a little but it will go on forever. I love football as much in 2012 as I did in 1975. I have just renewed my season ticket at Elland Road for the 22nd season in succession. I watched almost every game there was on TV last season and I loved it. Its soul will never die. Peter Martin