The modern football fan is a curious creature and we have arrived at a point in which we must take pause to reassess. Football has scaled new heights in terms of quality/finance/success/greed/exposure/entertainment and it has left the modern supporter in a complicated position. Football in 2015 is show business in every sense of the word – as unruly and chaotic as it is entertaining and joyful. But it has never been as popular, analysed or universal as its current iteration. But its current form is having a remarkable consequence on the common football fan: We’ve become a cynical bunch.
Yes, we are losing the pleasure that football should bring. If our team lose we enter a period of reflection and existential questioning that would make Sartre roll his eyes with frustration. Draws have become slightly less painful losses, like having your car stolen but finding a €1 on the way to the police station – you’re infuriated but at least you have something small to cling to. We have even lost the joy of winning. A win now is not a chance to celebrate but, instead, an opportunity to laud it over the opposition with a few V signs thrown in for good measure. Football has moved from beloved past time to cutthroat business.
But perhaps it’s not our fault. Perhaps the sport itself has turned us into this miserable mess. If we take a glance at the current state of football it’s hard not to feel dispirited. From the constant headlines about corruption in FIFA to the multimillionaire Yaya Touré left contemplating whether he could continue in his place of work after Manchester City’s failure to mark his 31st birthday sufficiently, it seems as if the beautiful game may have become a little too big for its boots. If everyone in football wants their cake – except for you, Yaya – and to eat it too then why can’t the fans?
But this season might offer us a chance to remember the sheer joy the game can offer a fully grown adult few other things in this world can. It has shown once again the beautiful side of the game. 6 days ago Jonas Gutierrez made his comeback to the sport 16 months after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer and battling chemotherapy. When something is able to make Newcastle fans stop complaining and smile again you know it’s special. The game offers chances to people like Rickie Lambert, who went from screwing the tops on beetroot jars in a factory to playing for his boyhood club Liverpool. League One side Bradford City showed up at the home of Chelsea and knocked them out of the FA Cup, offering some credence to the phrase “the magic of the FA Cup”.
But perhaps when we look back on this season in years to come one name will stand out: Harry Kane. I don’t wish to merely dedicate this space to lavish complimentary platitudes upon the shoulders of Harry Kane, for that is a job in which the Daily Mail appear unconquerable. I hold no particular affinity for the young man. I only wish to acknowledge that the rise of Harry Kane can perhaps help cure our cold, distrustful hearts and remind the modern football fan why we love this sport so much. Kane feels as if he is the embodiment of a football fan on the pitch, trying, and succeeding, to win his club points in the most dramatic of circumstances. He offers us a glimpse at why we love football. Not only is he is a 21-year-old playing for his boyhood club but he is their idol, the Next Great (lily)White Hope. The fans chant his name a little louder than the other players; his goals feel just that little bit more special to them.
Sure, there are many characteristics to Harry Kane to hold against him. Firstly, he almost appears to be the creation of the veteran English football journalist, the ones for who Messi is the poor man’s Stanley Matthews and who think that football reached its zenith during the 1960’s. He appears to meet the requirement that these journalists seek before they grant footballers the status of “a good ‘un”. Firstly, his name couldn’t be more English if it offered you a cup of tea and told you to stay calm and carry on. It’s a name that’s short and gets to the point, wonderful in its simplicity. His appearance, a complete contrast to the modern footballer, normally six-packed and not afraid to show you, Kane’s physique fits in more with the footballers of yore, malnourished and in need of a good feeding. He’s a throwback to time before the sport was filled with prima donnas, when instead of complaining about playing three games in a week and diving instead of taking the shot, they went out and just played. Just for the simple joy of scoring a goal, or winning a match or making the fans proud.
We must embrace the brief window of optimism on offer before we return to our cynical ways, a period that may be as momentary as an Arsenal title charge. With the Premier League receiving a 70 percent increase in the value of its British television rights for the 2016-19 seasons, with Sky and BT paying a combined £5 billion pounds to show games, Premier League clubs have more money than they know what to do with it. Soon the likes of Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia will be earning £200,000 a week and we will hold back the tears from falling on our €70 replica jerseys when they conspire throw away the lead in the last minute. Before we return to our miserable incarnation, take stock of why we love this sport and why we are football fans.