Top 5: Things we miss about football 0

Admittedly, the ‘everything about modern football is awful’ mindset is quite contrary and, actually, inaccurate.  True, there are all kinds of genuine grievances about loyalty and ticket prices, but there’s a lot to like, too.

Still, the sport’s evolution has come at a cost and some of its more loveable facets are genuinely missed.  Here are five of them:

5. Bad pitches

Yes, yes, carpet-like playing surfaces are to the betterment of the game, but there was something very English about bad pitches.

Even as recently as the 1990s, groundsmen would be fighting a losing battle by the end of October and penalty-boxes and centre-circles would be be little more than naked ground.  The further down the league pyramid you went, the tighter the budgetary restrictions became and the more preposterous the solutions would be: teams who couldn’t afford to re-lay their pitch would just clog them up with sand or, for those who couldn’t quite stretch to sand, a can of green spray-paint would give a Division Three six-yard box a nice, luminous glow.

4. Proper shirt numbers

“Squad numbers” are such an evil.  They’re presented as being a logical part of the game, but truthfully they are just another weapon in football’s war on your bank account. Players having names and numbers on their shirt mean that you could pay to get names and numbers on your shirt.

Look how that worked out.

When squad numbering arrived, it bred all sorts of associated negatives, too.  Self-indulgent players would wear ludicrously high numbers, entire starting elevens wouldn’t would fall outside the one-to-eleven tradition, and fans were effectively invited to plaster the backs of their replica shirts with awful ‘banter’.

…and, when you think about it - when you really, really think about it - how strange is it to see middle-aged adults glorifying athletes who are half their age?

3. Unspoilt highlights

There used to be such a thing as ‘avoiding the results’.

If your Saturday was spoilt by a poorly-planned wedding or a trip to Homebase, you could always replicate the immediacy of the afternoon by watching Match Of The Day without prior knowledge of the scores.

It wasn’t that difficult, either.  As long as you stayed away from the television or the radio, you would likely get all the way to 10.30pm without being any the wiser.  It was fun, too, because it built some artificial pre-match anticipation into your Saturday night.

Social media has made that almost impossible.  Worse still, it’s also incredibly difficult to actually avoid the Saturday afternoon goals now.  As soon as a team scores, a stuttery little Vine pops up like an unwanted freckle to ensure that you remain unwittingly up-to-date.

No, you don’t have to click on them, but really you do.

2. Standing

Standing at football is just…better.  Modern stadia are glowing cathedrals and their non-intimidating environments and corporate facilities have helped to gentrify the game and drown it in cash.  Television money aside, they are the principle money-harvesting tool for any football club and, in that respect, we all owe our club’s aspirations of success to its all-seater ground.

Of course, they are also extremely safe and all but eliminate the terrible threat of someone going to the football and never coming back.  Even if they have diluted atmospheres and changed the attending demographics, they have to be considered a force for good.

But that doesn’t dull the memory of standing on a terrace, being packed-up against your fellow supporters and intoxicated by the smell of freshly-cut grass, cigarette smoke and burgers. It’s not just wistful, pointless nostalgia, it really was something special.

1. Tackling.

Tackling is now associated with injury and where we once applauded commitment, now we frown at recklessness.

Broken legs, shattered ankles, ruined careers…these are not good things and it goes without saying that protecting players is a priority.  Similarly, when predatory hatchetmen roamed the country in search of weak-limbed playmakers, the game was not better for it.

Still, when you think of the traditional associations with English football, hard tackling is right there.  Nobody should ever try to put an opponent in danger, but as violent as some contests for the ball used to be, they were a welcome part of the landscape.  Two players, a fifty-fifty, both putting themselves at risk purely to retrieve possession?

It was blunt, definitely, but it was generally honest and, more than anything else, it was who we were.

It’s possible to acknowledge that the new tackling rules and the concern over angles and studs are a good thing, whilst at the same time retaining some fondness for how it used to be.

Where once there was talk about the disparity between the various world leagues, now we’re seeing a slow creep towards a homogenised sport - and the sanitisation of tackling feels like a part of that.

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

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