'Slow Foot': is another kind of football possible?

John Foot, 22 September 2007


Football is in crisis. Everywhere. But more people are watching football (on TV) than ever before, and the game is richer than ever. Multi-billionaires are queuing up to buy clubs for vast amounts of money. The game is globalised, and is making money on a global scale. Fans of the top European clubs can be found everywhere where there is a TV set, or an internet link. So where is the crisis?

First of all, the crisis is on the pitch. All players are athletes now. They rarely get tired. They run for the whole game, and press right up the pitch. Tactical and business-model changes in the game have led to scientific training techniques being introduced. Games are much faster than they were even ten years ago. Everyone plays in more or less the same way. Nobody has a sweeper. Everyone plays four at the back. There are no more tactics to be discovered anymore. As a result, many games are extremely boring. Faster does not mean more interesting in football terms. Skill players – fantasisti – are few and far between. There are some exceptions to this rule – Messi, Pirlo, Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo – but they are just that, exceptions. Many games are fast, and very dull. And there is no turning back. We can’t make the game ‘slower’. This is it and we are stuck with it – and it will get worse. Many of the stars of the past would probably not even become professionals nowadays – Rivera, Corso. They needed too much time to think. These days, there is no time to think. Slow football enthusiasts probably need to watch lower league football, to get to see something more interesting. In the professional game, this is our destiny. A series of pointless games, which all look the same.

And then there is the money itself, as underlined by Michel Platini’s letter. In what sense is money killing the game? First, money is producing oligarchies in each national championship, where only 2-3 teams can ever win the championship. This system has already been identified as neo-calcio by Il Manifesto some time ago. The richest, biggest clubs are the only ones who can win in Italy, England and Spain (and increasingly France). All the others have no chance. Sometimes a ‘smaller’ club is made rich by a very rich owner, but this doesn’t really change the balance of power. Football is not just predictable on the pitch, but the winners are always the same teams. Since 1995 only Juventus and Milan have won more than one scudetto. Since the end of the 1980s Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have won almost all the championships available. The top four are always the same top four – and take the money from the Champions’ League. No small team can ever win again. We will never have another Cagliari (1970); Verona (1985) or Nottingham Forest (1978). The game is thus boring because it is too predictable. Not even the fans of these clubs (who in England have become much, much richer in the last few years) are particularly interested. Only 25,000 people watched Chelsea play in the Champions League on Tuesday. Juventus hardly ever fill their stadium. Arsenal’s poshest fans hardly watch the game. The necessity of winning also produced corruption on an immense scale – above all in Italy but also in the world of international football.

Again, what can a Slow Foot movement do about this? Very little. Platini’s plea is a desperate one – revealing his complete lack of power. It is too late. We can talk about the past. We can set up our own teams – like FC United, the rival Manchester United team which challenges the Glazer dynasty at their club, and attracts thousands of ‘real’ fans every week. But us Slow Foot enthusiasts have to live in our memories: the memory of the terraces, the small of piss, the disgusting pies and extremely hot tea, the funny chants, the snow and mud, the players who had pot bellies, smoked and drank with abandon, who you might even meet down the pub or in the betting shop. Most players nowadays are rich beyond their wildest dreams before they even reach their twenties  (although you might well still meet them in the betting shop). That was football, once upon a time. But it is dead. It has ceased to be. What we have now is something else. More scientific, lightening fast, with fitter players, comfortable seats, expensive pizzas and internet access.

Personally, I still enjoy watching games (sometimes), but going to games is a depressing experience – over-priced and lacking in atmosphere. Last year I paid £50.00 for one match. But I can’t listen to football chat anymore, or watch football programmes. You begin to realise after a time that these programmes have nothing to say to each other, or to their audiences. They are the triumph of the pointless. A language is used which seems to be about football, but which is in fact about nothing at all. What happens off the pitch (the fans; transfer rumours; what the manager says; what Mourinho does on the bench; when did Abramovich leave the stadium. The game is presented as a permanent soap opera. ‘Football’ cannot be saved, but at least we can still talk about its past – and its scandals sometimes provide us with some entertainment.  The rest is history.


[back to main tour page]