Football Column – Concrete Jungle

Spurs at Bayern Munich

In the latest drip-drip of stories from Sky Sports News in the first week of the English Premier League season they announced this evening that Sunderland have opened a Fan Zone; in other words they have made use of a vast car park to put up a few large umbrellas and a big screen in which they can flog bland lager in plastic containers. Half way through a week that started with a live 12.45pm game decided by a lone own goal and will end with football on Friday evening due to drained police resources being diverted to a march by wannabe fascists the following day, EPL Week 1 is dragging like a shoot out midway through Season 2 of True Detective: overblown, unrealistic, fragments of flying glass flying at bleeding coppers and a bit boring.

It is unfortunate for the Premier League that it started within minutes of the best sporting moment of the year, England’s hammering of Australia in regaining The Ashes. Last year it followed a great World Cup and in 2012 it had to come on after a wonderful home Olympics, so it is a good thing it is so thick skinned in its invincibility as a product. It didn’t live up to the sporting excitement that preceded it from elsewhere in those two seasons, but you’d never know it.

Even managers seem to believe the hype. Slaven Bilic dropped players from the quest of more exotic European glory for the long slog of the premier league, which at best may be rewarded with another European qualifier next July, when they can get the chance to again to drop players for next season’s long slog.

But in reality English Premier League clubs have long known isolationism is no longer a practical policy; this isn’t just evidenced with the realisation of Barcelona players being paid handsomely to fancy it at Stoke on a Tuesday night but with the touring since the end of the last season; English clubs have been flying to Australia, the States, Asia and all over Europe to play in friendlies, swap pennants, sell TV rights and model dodgy change kits.

And it wasn’t just English clubs. Real Madrid and Milan seemed to be following each other around in different airport lounges and were joined by Tottenham Hotspur, who had already been to two other continents since finishing last season in May, in the magnificent Allianz Arena in Munich. With their own new stadium to look forward to soon, Spurs fans who travelled would have enjoyed the prospect of a ground with magnificent sight-lines everywhere, organised paths back to public transport and barriers in stands that could switch to safe standing. And the pricing for seeing two matches with a dusting of world class players on the same night worked out less than £20 for some tickets.

It may not have been all perfect; queuing for fifteen minutes to top up a card before getting in another twenty minute card showed that German efficiency isn’t all it is cracked up to be.  However, as impressive as anything, despite the daftness of the queues, was decent beer being served inside the stadium. A reminder how football could be where fans are treated civilly. No need for downing five pints of weak piss in the marqueed concrete jungle outside when you can have a decent beer when you get in the ground. It may be seem a stretch in a nation where Man Utd have to play Aston Villa on a Friday night because the police have to escort the few in Wetherspoons and Yates’ in the Midlands the following afternoon, but English football can’t have it both ways; if Liverpool players can market face cream to them, clubs can offer them credit cards and branded nylon, being a customer shouldn’t end when it comes to getting competitive pricing in the market place and being served a beer in the stadium.

One week in and somethings seem familiar. Hapless Cech, obnoxious Mourinho and £65 match tickets. But soon, a change is going to come. We’ll be able to spend more money in a fan zone beforehand.


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