Ben Hibbs

Freelance Journalist. Sport, music, travel and social media.

Get on with it! Football’s impatience

Another trip to see Oldham at Boundary Park, another defeat…

Perhaps it’s just Oldham Athletic, though I suspect not - you see and hear it at football grounds up and down the country - but there’s a peculiar impatience at lower league matches.

Think how many times at the football you’ve heard someone shout unsympathetically: “Come on! Get on with it!” And not just directed at an opposition player wasting time at a throw-in, or dying on the floor after a bone-crunching tackle, or a referee giving a laborious lecture to a disinterested delinquent. Fans even direct it at their own players. In the Chaddy End at Boundary Park - this is two matches into Latics’ Golden Ticket five-matches-for-£15 offer - even kids, their views on football not yet fully matured, shout: “Come on, hurry up! Get a move on!”

What’s the rush? Why is everybody so keen to get it all over with? Are the rest of their lives so important and exhilarating that they must quickly dispose of this pesky business with clinical rapidity? The football on show isn’t exactly Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, it’s not a masterclass from Paul Scholes, an occasional observer in these parts. But you are paying for 90 minutes of entertainment, what’s the sense in fast-forwarding through it as though you’ve Sky-plussed the match in your mind and desire only to view the most salient points in the plot? The same people leave five minutes before the end, or at least leave their seat and watch as they walk along the footpath at the pitch’s edge. They shuffle closer to the exit, rubbernecking to capture the last vestige of their Saturday afternoon hobby, before hot-footing it across the car park like they’re fleeing from a crime, into their cars and off into the horizon and the vitally important matters that await their undivided attention. Late winners and equalisers don’t count, I’m too busy.

Fans aren’t even particularly taken with considered, patient passing in the back four; defenders are not built for that at this level, they’re destined to physically destroy forwards, or going off with head injuries and coming back on to score a bloodied, headed goal from a corner, before running back to the half way line roaring like an action movie hero: “we can win this boys!” But when the centre-backs start faffing in defence, knocking it about, that is not on. Get it forward, lad.

The further up the football ladder you go the more that composure and patience on the ball are recognised as requisite qualities. In the hustle and bustle of England’s tougher leagues though, it’s not so widely regarded, or even recommended - that forward you cynically scythed down in the first five minutes is out for revenge, with bloodshot eyes and studs at the ready.

Oldham’s 2-1 defeat against Yeovil Town on Saturday had a similar air to the loss to Scunthorpe United a few days before it: going a goal down, equalising, only to lose out in the end. Yeovil, like Scunthorpe, started well, but this time Oldham’s opponents capitalised early, midfielder Gavin Williams scoring an excellent goal from distance.

Oldham’s bloodied centre-back, the incredibly-named Zander Diamond, levelled in the aforementioned heroic manner in the second half, but Yeovil responded quickly and took all three points.

The Latics players look tired - and no wonder, it’s a small squad, mostly the same 11 for two games a week, dealing with a gruelling glut of games. All the more reason, then, to take your time and not rush things, put your foot on the ball and conserve energy. Except that’s not allowed.

"Don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die"

There are many comforting and reassuring facets to Football League matches: to clubs your hard-earned is about surviving never mind thriving; players earn a living, not a fortune; stands are artfully half-filled, and exactly that, a stand on one of four sides, not a neon-lit spaceship engulfing a steroid-ripped retractable grass platform; mobs of 13-year-old kids on the first row behind the goal telling the opposition goalkeeper to “fuck off, you shit cunt”; players with surnames like ‘Slocombe’, which sounds like the technique employed by Scott Parker’s hair stylist; absurdly massive player shorts; centre-forwards built like brick shithouses, or in the case of Oldham’s Shefki Kuqi, a shit brickhouse.

Football at this level is back to basics – I’d recommend it to any supporter usually lured by the bright lights of top-flight football, or the minute you find yourself enraged, for example, when a big club loses all sense of morality and defends a player accused of racially abusing another player who then refuses to shake his hand months later, or if you have enough of footballers refusing contracts because they can get an extra million quid elsewhere.

The lower leagues present football in simplistic form - in almost every sense - and it is cleansing. While Manchester United fans contemplated stumping up the extortionate £77.50 Athletic Bilbao demand for a ticket at San Mames, another Athletic, Oldham, were offering ground entry for £15 – to five home games. That’s £3 a game, although even if you missed the first game, as I did, you can still buy the ‘Golden Ticket’, it just bumps up the aggregate price to a pocket-draining £3.75 per game. 

Oldham are mid-table in League One and generally find it difficult to score goals despite some decent approach-play. However, they prepared for struggling Scunthorpe United’s Tuesday night visit to Baltic Boundary Park (yes, it really is that cold) on the back of a morale-boosting 3-2 away win over promotion-chasing Sheffield United, who had won their previous eight games at Bramall Lane.

Scunthorpe are hovering only a few points over the relegation zone, perhaps because, despite possessing a number of skilful, technically gifted players, few of them are tall enough for the scary rides at Alton Towers, except of course their no.9 Jon Parkin, who looks a bit like Guy Garvey on an aggressive fitness and body-building programme. Oldham have one or two that can play as well; Tom Adeyemi is only 21 but is one of Oldham’s best players, possessing an eye for a pass and the ability to take players on in midfield, while former Manchester United youngster Kieran Lee, a skilful, attacking right-back is understandably well-liked by the home fans. A cultured full-back at this level is gold dust. Oldham may find it difficult to keep him.

Also in the team on Tuesday night was Reece Brown, on loan from United and making his home debut – he played against Sheffield United at the weekend. Brown, like his older brother Wes, was also schooled as a defender. Central midfield does not seem like a natural role, but he is of smaller build than his brother, and perhaps not the same raw pace, power and aggression that led Sir Alex Ferguson to label Wes the most naturally gifted defender of his generation. A career at United is unlikely, even though he is still only 20. Too many players block his path but on the evidence of this game he could make a career at this level – something his older brother has encouraged him to pursue in the past. He may naturally drop back into defence once he fills out, but although not a natural passer, he got involved and, to use the requisite parlance at this level, put his foot in. To the watching Oldham manager, Paul Dickov – stood there menacingly like Begbie on the touchline – and for whom ‘putting a foot in’ was kind of a motto, he would likely have been pleased with the youngster’s input, despite grief off the crowd for dillydallying on one or two occasions.

Another player putting his foot in was the impossibly-named Keanu Marsh-Brown, another loanee, from Fulham, who has quick-fire feet and a hot-headed nature. He was sent off late on for a wincing, studs-showing tackle. Scunthorpe’s Josh Walker was also dismissed for seemingly trying to treat Marsh-Brown like he was part of the hammer event at the Olympics as recompense. Again, a lesson you could only learn at this level, which is probably why Fulham sent him there.

The game’s action was top-heavy, with the crucial details taking place in the last 20 minutes. Oldham could have had the points tied up having hit the bar twice, while Marsh-Brown proved his inexperience (he is only 19) by missing two one-on-ones. Scunthorpe took the lead somewhat against the run of play on 73 minutes and Oldham equalised five minutes later with one of those treasured Football League treats: a skewed cross looping over the goalkeeper and in off the far post – much to the delight of the Red Bull-charged, keeper-hating teens behind the goal – before Scunthorpe grabbed victory with ten minutes left. All that for £3.75? You can’t really complain about value for money.

There are many comforting and reassuring facets to Football League matches: to clubs your hard-earned is about surviving never mind thriving; players earn a living, not a fortune; stands are artfully half-filled, and exactly that, a stand on one of four sides, not a neon-lit spaceship engulfing a steroid-ripped retractable grass platform; mobs of 13-year-old kids on the first row behind the goal telling the opposition goalkeeper to “fuck off, you shit cunt”; players with surnames like ‘Slocombe’, which sounds like the technique employed by Scott Parker’s hair stylist; absurdly massive player shorts; centre-forwards built like brick shithouses, or in the case of Oldham’s Shefki Kuqi, a shit brickhouse.

Football at this level is back to basics – I’d recommend it to any supporter usually lured by the bright lights of top-flight football, or the minute you find yourself enraged, for example, when a big club loses all sense of morality and defends a player accused of racially abusing another player who then refuses to shake his hand months later, or if you have enough of footballers refusing contracts because they can get an extra million quid elsewhere.

The lower leagues present football in simplistic form - in almost every sense - and it is cleansing. While Manchester United fans contemplated stumping up the extortionate £77.50 Athletic Bilbao demand for a ticket at San Mames, another Athletic, Oldham, were offering ground entry for £15 – to five home games. That’s £3 a game, although even if you missed the first game, as I did, you can still buy the ‘Golden Ticket’, it just bumps up the aggregate price to a pocket-draining £3.75 per game.

Oldham are mid-table in League One and generally find it difficult to score goals despite some decent approach-play. However, they prepared for struggling Scunthorpe United’s Tuesday night visit to Baltic Boundary Park (yes, it really is that cold) on the back of a morale-boosting 3-2 away win over promotion-chasing Sheffield United, who had won their previous eight games at Bramall Lane.

Scunthorpe are hovering only a few points over the relegation zone, perhaps because, despite possessing a number of skilful, technically gifted players, few of them are tall enough for the scary rides at Alton Towers, except of course their no.9 Jon Parkin, who looks a bit like Guy Garvey on an aggressive fitness and body-building programme. Oldham have one or two that can play as well; Tom Adeyemi is only 21 but is one of Oldham’s best players, possessing an eye for a pass and the ability to take players on in midfield, while former Manchester United youngster Kieran Lee, a skilful, attacking right-back is understandably well-liked by the home fans. A cultured full-back at this level is gold dust. Oldham may find it difficult to keep him.

Also in the team on Tuesday night was Reece Brown, on loan from United and making his home debut – he played against Sheffield United at the weekend. Brown, like his older brother Wes, was also schooled as a defender. Central midfield does not seem like a natural role, but he is of smaller build than his brother, and perhaps not the same raw pace, power and aggression that led Sir Alex Ferguson to label Wes the most naturally gifted defender of his generation. A career at United is unlikely, even though he is still only 20. Too many players block his path but on the evidence of this game he could make a career at this level – something his older brother has encouraged him to pursue in the past. He may naturally drop back into defence once he fills out, but although not a natural passer, he got involved and, to use the requisite parlance at this level, put his foot in. To the watching Oldham manager, Paul Dickov – stood there menacingly like Begbie on the touchline – and for whom ‘putting a foot in’ was kind of a motto, he would likely have been pleased with the youngster’s input, despite grief off the crowd for dillydallying on one or two occasions.

Another player putting his foot in was the impossibly-named Keanu Marsh-Brown, another loanee, from Fulham, who has quick-fire feet and a hot-headed nature. He was sent off late on for a wincing, studs-showing tackle. Scunthorpe’s Josh Walker was also dismissed for seemingly trying to treat Marsh-Brown like he was part of the hammer event at the Olympics as recompense. Again, a lesson you could only learn at this level, which is probably why Fulham sent him there.

The game’s action was top-heavy, with the crucial details taking place in the last 20 minutes. Oldham could have had the points tied up having hit the bar twice, while Marsh-Brown proved his inexperience (he is only 19) by missing two one-on-ones. Scunthorpe took the lead somewhat against the run of play on 73 minutes and Oldham equalised five minutes later with one of those treasured Football League treats: a skewed cross looping over the goalkeeper and in off the far post – much to the delight of the Red Bull-charged, keeper-hating teens behind the goal – before Scunthorpe grabbed victory with ten minutes left. All that for £3.75? You can’t really complain about value for money.

Paul Pogba’s impending transfer to Juventus isn’t a game-changer. Not for United, who will survive without the services of an impatient, albeit very talented, youngster lured away by enticing promises. Neither is it anything new in terms of youth transfers, merely an example of an increasingly prominent and lucrative market. For non-United fans there is a sweet irony to all this, even discounting those merely delighting in any negative story concerning a club they despise. United took Pogba from French club Le Havre at 16, very much controversially at the time – the lure of more money at a big club no doubt turned his head. Now the same has happened to United. It’s ammunition to Old Trafford detractors, but the galling thing is not that a player rejects United, it is more the wider implications that a player with strong prospects for a very good career at a stable club, a top club, would surrender that for what is - not even arguably - a step down for more money. Will Pogba get more opportunities amid Juve’s well-stocked midfield? It’s no guarantee. Football’s youth market has become crucial to clubs, particularly as sides like Manchester City and Chelsea, with their billionaire owners and seemingly unlimited funds, corner the grown-up market’s top talent; transfer fees and wages continue to spiral out of all sense of proportion.  Footballers have a right to earn what they can. Nobody bemoans a film star’s income unless they turn in dreadful performances in dire flicks. Footballers are no different. It’s supply and demand with no control. Clubs have been under a self- and collectively-imposed pressure to outdo rivals by signing bigger (more-renowned) players on ever bigger contracts. So when competing becomes unsustainable and clubs tap out, they naturally turn to younger prospects, deemed of value because they have a whole career in front of them. They are more malleable in terms of clubs’ philosophies, values, style of play, pressures and idiosyncrasies. But loyalty and recognition for what is best in a young player’s career have become distorted by the promise of riches these young men always suspected their talents would command – and now. Kids don’t want wait any more. Impatience in youth is nothing new, but young players now have greater opportunities to pick and choose where they play – and often to the highest payer. Of the several long-term dangers this uncovers, one is given little consideration: that these young men are exposed to riches and status before they even have any idea of how to cope with it all. What effect does that have on them as people? As fans, it may be of no concern, especially with the modern disconnect between fans and players. But footballing fame and fortune is ruinous in inexperienced hands and the sport has an obligation to its young players. Sadly, few consider that because they are too concerned with taking what is best for them – agents, clubs, international associations are all guilty to an extent. Who is to blame for the shift in this youth movement? Big clubs? Well, you might argue that their rapacious intent to possess the best young talent has led, as with senior players, to silly figures being thrown around, a bloating of the market and a thickening of the standard wedge commanded by spotty, unproven young scamps. Those clubs would argue that it is the system’s fault. The geographically challenged old Academy system prevented clubs from cherry-picking the best talent. The paradox there was that fans of smaller clubs would say, ‘why should the big clubs be allowed to take a player that could be developed at my club and then sold on at a higher, more deserved fee at, say, 19 or 20?’ Those same fans then bemoan the technical inability of the national squad. The compensation scheme was undoubtedly inconsistent and flawed too. That is all likely to change with the forthcoming introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), of which one of its promises is that the best young players will train at the best academies. Again, this may not be a move with the smaller clubs most prominently in mind. But if more clubs took the educational attitude of Manchester United, which feeds the game with well-schooled young men, it might not be so bad a deal. And with all the will in the world, a talented player is not going to learn as much at Morecombe as he is at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson said of the EPPP recently: "I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get the production line going again." Home-grown talent, in the truest sense of the term, is imperative to a necessary culture change. Globalisation benefits many businesses today, but concentrating on matters closer to home in this case might do the world of good. Developing English talent, indeed any nation nurturing their own talent, is vital to encouraging the stable and fulfilled development of young players, not a fractured system with depleted morals and a yearning for multi-million-pound contracts, because that isn’t truly benefiting anyone, least of all the game itself.

Paul Pogba’s impending transfer to Juventus isn’t a game-changer. Not for United, who will survive without the services of an impatient, albeit very talented, youngster lured away by enticing promises. Neither is it anything new in terms of youth transfers, merely an example of an increasingly prominent and lucrative market.

For non-United fans there is a sweet irony to all this, even discounting those merely delighting in any negative story concerning a club they despise. United took Pogba from French club Le Havre at 16, very much controversially at the time – the lure of more money at a big club no doubt turned his head. Now the same has happened to United. It’s ammunition to Old Trafford detractors, but the galling thing is not that a player rejects United, it is more the wider implications that a player with strong prospects for a very good career at a stable club, a top club, would surrender that for what is - not even arguably - a step down for more money. Will Pogba get more opportunities amid Juve’s well-stocked midfield? It’s no guarantee.

Football’s youth market has become crucial to clubs, particularly as sides like Manchester City and Chelsea, with their billionaire owners and seemingly unlimited funds, corner the grown-up market’s top talent; transfer fees and wages continue to spiral out of all sense of proportion.  Footballers have a right to earn what they can. Nobody bemoans a film star’s income unless they turn in dreadful performances in dire flicks. Footballers are no different. It’s supply and demand with no control. Clubs have been under a self- and collectively-imposed pressure to outdo rivals by signing bigger (more-renowned) players on ever bigger contracts. So when competing becomes unsustainable and clubs tap out, they naturally turn to younger prospects, deemed of value because they have a whole career in front of them. They are more malleable in terms of clubs’ philosophies, values, style of play, pressures and idiosyncrasies.

But loyalty and recognition for what is best in a young player’s career have become distorted by the promise of riches these young men always suspected their talents would command – and now. Kids don’t want wait any more. Impatience in youth is nothing new, but young players now have greater opportunities to pick and choose where they play – and often to the highest payer. Of the several long-term dangers this uncovers, one is given little consideration: that these young men are exposed to riches and status before they even have any idea of how to cope with it all. What effect does that have on them as people? As fans, it may be of no concern, especially with the modern disconnect between fans and players. But footballing fame and fortune is ruinous in inexperienced hands and the sport has an obligation to its young players. Sadly, few consider that because they are too concerned with taking what is best for them – agents, clubs, international associations are all guilty to an extent.

Who is to blame for the shift in this youth movement? Big clubs? Well, you might argue that their rapacious intent to possess the best young talent has led, as with senior players, to silly figures being thrown around, a bloating of the market and a thickening of the standard wedge commanded by spotty, unproven young scamps. Those clubs would argue that it is the system’s fault. The geographically challenged old Academy system prevented clubs from cherry-picking the best talent. The paradox there was that fans of smaller clubs would say, ‘why should the big clubs be allowed to take a player that could be developed at my club and then sold on at a higher, more deserved fee at, say, 19 or 20?’ Those same fans then bemoan the technical inability of the national squad. The compensation scheme was undoubtedly inconsistent and flawed too.

That is all likely to change with the forthcoming introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), of which one of its promises is that the best young players will train at the best academies. Again, this may not be a move with the smaller clubs most prominently in mind. But if more clubs took the educational attitude of Manchester United, which feeds the game with well-schooled young men, it might not be so bad a deal. And with all the will in the world, a talented player is not going to learn as much at Morecombe as he is at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson said of the EPPP recently: "I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get the production line going again."

Home-grown talent, in the truest sense of the term, is imperative to a necessary culture change. Globalisation benefits many businesses today, but concentrating on matters closer to home in this case might do the world of good. Developing English talent, indeed any nation nurturing their own talent, is vital to encouraging the stable and fulfilled development of young players, not a fractured system with depleted morals and a yearning for multi-million-pound contracts, because that isn’t truly benefiting anyone, least of all the game itself.

Boundary Park, 6.3.12
Oldham 1 Scunthorpe 2

Boundary Park, 6.3.12
Oldham 1 Scunthorpe 2

An Aspie’s take on football

surrealfootball:

I would define myself in life as many things: a proud uncle of five nieces and a nephew; a lover of Scorsese and Tarantino films’ a massive fan of the Pixies. But the things that perhaps most strongly define me are the facts that I’m an Aspie (someone who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, which to cut the mumbo jumbo is a high-functioning form of autism) and that I love football – or more specifically, Tottenham Hotspur.

Yes

Glorious: Afternoon by Youth Lagoon

This Charming Mario

guardianmusic:

This Nintendo-inspired cover of The Smiths’ This Charming Man should add a little chiptune pep to your stride on a cold Monday morning. CS