Is the Championship really "proper footy"?
A multinational oil company have sponsored a “campaign” called Proper Footy, consisting of a Facebook page which decries things such as celebrity players, gold football boots, enticing kids with multi-million pound transfer fees and, most of all from the looks of things, diving. Its mission statement? To lure young supporters to Championship clubs, it seems…
There doesn’t seem to be much point in beating around the bush. The company is Texaco and the page in question can be found just here.
So what do you reckon?
The sentiment seems an honest one on the surface. The Football League has long marketed itself as the home of “real football” and many supporters of clubs outside of the top flight have been quick to agree. This is good, honest football. Played the way it was meant to be played. Or is it?
My immediate thought upon reading Proper Footy’s dismissal of multi-coloured football boots and a propensity for diving was of a player who is arguably the Football League’s finest. What is the message to Queen’s Park Rangers star Adel Taarabt? Sod off to the Premier League? Stick a pair of black boots on, cut out the theatrics and we will welcome you with open arms?
In actual fact, QPR’s recent victory over Cardiff was hailed by the mysterious administrator behind Proper Footy as “a great exhibition of football from both sides”. They then went even further by saying that both Taarabt and his Cardiff counterpart in galactico terms, Craig Bellamy, “clearly stood out”.
Where do you start?
Here are two Premier League talents who are playing beneath themselves. The Championship is benefiting, too. The increased exposure provided by such excellent players cannot fail to lift the profile of the second tier of English football. And if these two do not rate highly enough on the “celebrity player” scale, then the presence of England’s World Cup goalkeeper at Ashton Gate and the ill-fated Selhurst sojourn of Edgar Davids cannot be far wide of the mark.
To say the Championship is proper footy is to apply some rather fuzzy logic, unfortunately.
These are tough times for traditionalists. Even the fan-owned club du jour, FC United of Manchester, has buckled slightly from its hardline stance with regard to kick-off times and television coverage due to recent FA Cup exploits.
Understandably so. The revenue earned when the club’s on-field success led to plenty of off-field interest will be ploughed into the worthy cause of a permanent home. This is just one example of the present-day dilemma facing those who abhor the modern consumer culture that continues to spread across football.
And that is the problem with the Proper Footy campaign. Orchestrated not by supporters but seemingly by the authorities, backed by a wealthy multinational company, its origins appear to conflict greatly with its supposed ideals.
The Championship is beginning to ape the Premier League in many ways. An increasing number of fixtures seem to be spread out over the course of weekends in the name of television coverage. Foreign owners look to the division for cheaper acquisitions, into which they can pile the cash that will fire them into the elite. And with less well-supported clubs like Blackpool and Wigan Athletic taking up sought-after space in the Premier League, there is more room for widely followed clubs in the leagues below.
The sheer breadth and depth of Premier League coverage, both in this country and abroad, means that a certain degree of inverted snobbery from those outside of the bubble is inevitable.
But it is easy to follow the same pattern. The number of posts made on this site regarding Championship clubs is more than those created on the subject of League One and League Two put together, because live television coverage of the second tier is so much more widespread.
Let no-one kid themselves. The Championship is rife with matchday experiences, family-focused marketing, over-zealous stewarding, the spectre of goal music and soulless stadia. None of these things can be ignored or overlooked in favour of bemoaning the Premier League. The lines are becoming increasingly blurred between the Championship and the behemoth to which it provides three sacrificial lambs each year, partly because of a few awkwardly successful lambs in recent times.
Give me a terrace with a low roof and the opportunity to celebrate goals in my own sweet way – generally involving a grazed knee and the impending hazard of a punctured lung – and I am full of joy. Regardless of what colour boots the goalscorer is wearing. That’s what proper footy means to me.
This isn’t just a tired, sepia-tinged rant at a world that has left me behind, though. I have my own opinion on each of the things Proper Footy rails against and the pure passion of a bitter rivalry often builds to such an extent that an exaggerated foul to win a crucial late penalty might even be welcomed. Perish the thought.
Unfortunately, the club I support happens to be in the Championship and the wind of change has not grown to such a furious gale that it can reverse the growing trends towards the “matchday experience” culture. To a certain extent, I am stuck with it and I have learned to make the best of it. Many others have admirably taken matters into their own hands, creating ultra-style groups to bring the fun back into football at a point when a large minority of their ilk feel alienated.
That supporters feel the need to create these groups in the first place, and certainly to plant them firmly against the direction football is going in, is the real shame of the situation. That I feel the need to write an article like this. That a campaign like Proper Footy even has a place in the world, regardless of its origins.
Maybe I’ve taken this too seriously. Maybe I am guilty of over-thinking the whole thing. Equally, however, that is my prerogative as a supporter of a Championship club and therefore a perfect fit for the campaign’s target demographic. What a lovely phrase. Please excuse me while I cleanse myself.
In conclusion, don’t tell me what proper footy is. I’ll make my own mind up, and I doubt my definition will match yours.
Here is a Championship-centric campaign far more worthy of your time:
Here are some more general but equally worthy FSF campaigns: