Tuesday 21 July 2020

Choosing the reality of less but real noise and wanting more from Turf Moor

Without the fans in the stadium no one will bother watching on the telly, because without the fans, no one is interested.

At least that's what I thought until recently. In these "unprecedented times" (yes we know, yawn!) even the BBC gets to have a share of the live football, the might of Covid finally bringing us a monster greater than Murdoch, enabling us peasants without the money or morals for TV subscriptions to watch Premier League games happening right in front of our eyes, and as they happen, rather than hours after the result is widely known (Terry and Bob wouldn't stand a chance avoiding the score these days, modern technology and social media would get them long before Brian Flint). Southampton versus Manchester City, a match up of one team who were safe from relegation and another who'd all but secured 2nd place, 100 points behind the champions, Liverpool, became the most watched Premier League game ever. Take that Murdo!

What was I thinking? Of course we will still watch; millions used to be glued to their sets watching Big Brother, getting an eyeful of some sales rep picking her nose and eating it to show she was being "true to herself"; millions in this country watch Mrs Brown's Boys, a middle aged man dressed as a woman in her senior years repeatedly bashing people over the head with a saucepan; and rumour has it, a couple of people even tuned in to Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps after the first series.

I watched Southampton-Man City, just as I'd followed Crystal Palace-Bournemouth a couple of weeks before it, which was BBC's first game back, 32 years after the last, Arsenal versus Spurs at Highbury (I watched that as well, obsv...yes that's right 2-1 to The Arse, Perry Groves scoring the winner.) Match-going fans who are used to being patronised in the comfort of their own expensive seats can now be  patronised in the comfort of their own loose-springed armchair or sofa, if they can still afford one. Manufactured crowd noise is played in to match the action, an 'ooh' and 'ahh' and even the odd boo thrown in, although never a "get out of my club you clueless twat!" or, my personal favourite chant, "It's not football anymore!" whenever VAR intervenes. In one of the first games after the restart, Newcastle United's Jonjo Shelvey blasted a free kick into the 3rd tier of St James' Park, to which the fake crowd went "oooh!" like he'd hit the post.

Today it still rankles that one of the Premier League bigwigs, just before the restart, said "we will miss our loyal fans". "Our?" So you're admitting that you think you own us then? And we certainly aren't fans of you! The fake crowd noise is symbolic of how the hobnobs see us; we are there just to pay and react. We know that under normal circumstances they try and drown us out with these stadium announcers e-numbered to the eyeballs and need to belittle our presence with pyrotechnics and light shows. When Burnley played Wolves last week I'd finally found the option to turn off the crowd noise, and it was much better. Admittedly, my eight and five year olds were making enough noise as it was. They didn't let up until half time, finally going upstairs to play with duplo, although making sure they were back just in time for the start of the second half.

I was surprised that Burnley didn't have a Black Lives Matter flag on show at Turf Moor. The clubs don't have to adorn the empty spaces with visuals of course, but they all are and, like most, Burnley had an NHS thank you banner, which was great, a rainbow coloured one which could have been LGBTQ+, also great if it was, and there were also actual Burnley FC messages too, but I couldn't see a Black Lives Matter one, which you see at every other stadium. I just thought this was an opportunity to respond to the sad White Lives Matter helicopter banner that flew over the Etihad stadium in Burnley's first game back. This was a banner orchestrated by a young man who insists he isn't racist because he knows black people, although has had his photo taken with Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League.

Yes, we shouldn't have to pander to ignoramuses, but the importance of calling out this behaviour is now more keenly felt than ever, and though Ben Mee, the captain, did so brilliantly after the City game, diverting the start of the interview from match-based detail to emphatically distance the football club from the air display, wouldn't a nice big banner have satisfyingly re-enforced his words?

I used to wonder about Burnley, and why in the Sean Dyche era there have never been any black players, or none that I can remember, in the first team, like at Everton even in the nineties ("Everton are white" some sang). There will be reasons why, and unconnected to race, but the lack of a Black Lives Matter flag led me towards thinking about this all-white union again, and also made me recall the allegations of racism towards Burnley strker Jay Rodrigues by Brighton defender Gaetano Bong last season. Rodriguez, Burnley born and now back at the club where he started, was at West Bromwich Albion when accused by Bong, but the following week, when Brighton played at Turf Moor, Bong was roundly booed. Looking after their own? Yes. Dismissing the possibility of a black man being racially abused? Yes.

Rodriguez wasn't found guilty, and as much as Dyche can irritate me, I have no evidence to suggest he is prejudiced, nor do I suspect that he is. I just thought Burnley could have done with a banner.                                


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