‘Hipsterism’ will become the default state for English football fans 1

Dare-to-Zlatan

There aren’t many terms which are more pejorative than ‘football hipster’.

Coined at some point over the last couple of years, the phrase describes someone who has deliberately strayed from the game’s beaten track.  It was really intended to deride those who publicly displayed a contrary interest in one of the game’s remote outposts.  It was a retaliation against those who used the obscurity of their interest as a statement or as an attention-seeking gimmick.

That’s the key symptom.  Exploring different parts of the sport does not make someone a hipster, but doing so whilst making sure that everybody else knows about it very much does.

That’s why the term has such a negative connotation.  As a condition, it’s an example of extremely contrived behaviour.

English football is very insular.  Maybe it’s part of our island mentality or maybe it’s just because the Premier League casts such a shadow, but one way or another it makes us resistant to anything beyond these shores.  As a result, those few who do stray away from Sky Sports, Jamie Redknapp and Richard Scudamore are viewed with a quizzical expression.

Why would you go there if you have all of this here?

The times are changing, though.  As the Premier League brand grows, so do the fanbases of the individual sides.  As with any other sport, new fans are attracted to the most visible and most successful teams and, as a consequence, the reporting and televising of the competition is becoming ever more focused on the top of the table.

That’s really just economics.  Frustrating though it may be, it makes journalistic and broadcasting sense to engage as many supporters as possible with content.  Manchester United and Liverpool are not the most interesting sides in the country, but they’re on television every week because they guarantee such a substantial audience.

Everybody knows this.

The problem however, is that not every fan has an endless fascination with the Premier League.  Loyal supporter though he or she may be, there’s a tipping point at which the average person will tire of the same old games, storylines and discussion points.  The coverage of English football frequently reaches a point of critical mass at which it becomes really, really dull.  There are only so many stories about Mario Balotelli, so many discussions about Wayne Rooney, and so many dissections of Arsenal’s midfield somebody can tolerate before looking for something fresh.

That’s not to say that the person will abandon English football, but just that they will allow their eyes to wander.  If you get bored of one type of food, for example, you don’t swear off it for life, you merely vary your diet.

It’s the footballing equivalent of the law of diminishing returns, and the natural response to that is for fans to increasingly venture beyond the Premier League’s walls.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain’s Swedish icon, has always been a cult figure.  Until recently, he existed on the periphery of English football’s consciousness.  Because of his uncharacteristically poor record against British sides in continental competition - and his subsequent lack of positive exposure on terrestrial television - appreciation for Ibrahimovic in this country was always far below the trend.

In November 2012, that changed.  The Swede scored an absurdly brilliant overhead kick against England in Stockholm and, overnight, the entire nation fell to their knees in front of him.  Those who had previously described him as a ‘myth’ or ‘overrated’ became paid-up members of the Ibrahimovic fan-club and, almost immediately, the British press started featuring the Swede’s weekly goals within their soft content rotation.

Just under a year later, having doubtless acknowledged the player’s now universal appeal, Nike launched their #DareToZlatan campaign.  Like all big-budget marketing drives, it was relentless, it was cynical and, ultimately, his image buckled under the weight of quasi-cool.  Ibrahimovic, once the perennial enigma of European football, had become dull through over-exposure.  He remained a fantastic player and he still did extraordinary things on a football pitch, but the chorused acclaim numbed most of us to his brilliance.

Suddenly, those who had previously fawned over Ibrahimovic left his side.  Not because their appreciation for him had fallen, but because he was no longer interesting to talk about - after all, if everybody agrees that something is great, where’s the need for any further exploration or debate?

That advertising campaign was cruel.  There was a magic to Ibrahimovic’s darkness.  The light Nike shone on him was so bright, that even his biggest fans had to shield their eyes and turn away.

This is not a new phenomenon.  In this age of complete coverage, any player who reaches the top of the game faces the same problem.  The dullest football-related discussion is the perm-argument as to which of Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi is superior.  Why?  Because those two are so famous and the supporting arguments behind each of them are so well-known, that there is no room for originality.

Would it not be more interesting to discuss the respective talents of Alexandre Lacazette and Luciano Vietto?

Yes?

But would that not be classed as a hipster debate?

There will always be those who try a little bit too hard to be different and it will always be irritating.  In football, however, the diversification of supporter interests will become a growing trend.  Not because of some anti-populist epidemic, though, but because the stale over-coverage of these individual leagues will increasingly fail to satisfy supporter appetites.

Soon, we will all be hipsters.

For Squawka: Why Michael Carrick is the most polarising player in English football.

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