Having just experienced the wettest summer for a century, a never ending depth of unemployment and the continuous gloom of austerity, it’s fair to say we could all do with a bit of comic relief in our lives. Everyone has their own personal form of escapism and for many of us, the footballing world offers us a break from the doom and gloom that’s hanging around the UK.
Or at least it should do, anyway. With every aspect of football, from a half-time pie to the petrol it costs to get us to grounds proving so excruciatingly expensive, at the very least, we live in the hope of entertainment.
The hope that even if after a 200mile-round journey that ended in woeful defeat, we’ll still end up laughing at the really quite ridiculous goal celebration we all had to endure. The hope that during a tedious week at work, you’ll still end up spontaneously laughing at the clever retort of a player who’d been receiving stick all game. The general belief that the footballing world will at the very minimum, give us something to smile about.
Call it a penchant for nostalgia, but you simply can’t shake the feeling that football’s sense of humour is currently suffering from the same blues as everyone else. Or worse still, it’s gone missing completely.
Where have all the characters gone, the laughs and the silly haircuts? When was the last time you read a funny story or amusing modern day anecdote in the paper? Football is supposed to offer us all an outlet, an escape from the trappings of modern day life. It appears recently anyway, it’s more part of the gloom, rather than the tonic.
The year of 2012 has seen a variety of knocks for the world of footballing humour. We’ve seen Mario Balotelli denounce the need to smile after scoring goal. In February, we saw Porto threaten to report Manchester City fans for leading chants of ‘You’re not incredible’ to Brazilian striker Hulk.
And perhaps in the most depressing instance of a sense of humour failure, we recently saw Falkirk’s PA announcer suspended after complaints from Rangers fans. His crime? Cheekily denoting the club as ‘Sevco Franchise’ (the name of the company used in the purchase of Rangers’ assets in the wake of liquidation) when reading out the half-time scores.
It might not seem like much, but it’s the little things that often make a big difference in football. In a sport that has quickly evolved into a business, it’s the unique sense of humour that so often adorns football, which gives it a human touch. One that is distinctly lacking in the 21st century.
Even something as basic as a colourful opinion from a footballer, feels like it’s very much in the descent. Footballer’s used to be able to talk to journalists to give tip offs, share stories and have a drink. But now the PR sterilized face of the former and the starving cynicism of the latter, have led to a relatively non existent relationship between the two.
There’s not much to laugh about even when footballers do manage to get their points across, too. The social phenomenon of Twitter has been credited with bringing footballers closer to supporters. One could only imagine the entertainment the likes of George Best, Rodney Marsh, Paul Gascoigne and even Jimmy Bullard would have provided had they still been playing in today’s world. It’s worth noting that a more refined Marsh can currently be found tweeting from his Florida home.
But now, even if a footballer’s opinion hasn’t been vetted by swathes of public relations staff, it’s not usually much to shout about. Those looking for a colourful opinion will be greeted with a cliché and those searching for something amusing will usually find an uploaded picture of a Nando’s chicken. It’s hardly a gag a minute.
So where has the humour and the laughs gone and who’s to blame? As a nation of such cynics, have we driven away the on pitch jesters?
Well, we certainly haven’t helped cultivate an environment that caters to the footballing maverick. As every single move on the pitch is overanalyzed a hundred times over, so is their activity off the pitch. Footballers are so often targets for the tabloid media and within the cult of celebrity that we currently inhabit, they’re absolute fodder to make it on the front pages for the wrong reasons.
Every comment they make travels faster than the speed of light through social media; one wrong move or risqué comment and before you know it, it’s been retweeted a thousand times over. Ashley Cole would hardly pass as a stand up comedian, but within an hour of delivering his “#BUNCHOF*****’ tweet, it had been regurgitated 17,000 times over. You get the point.
Even the very game itself, seems to be intent on sucking all the fun out. For quite a while now, a player has been able to throw his jersey off in a moment of pure jubilation. Again, during West Ham United’s recent 3-1 defeat at Arsenal, the Hammers’ Senegalese midfielder Mohamed Diame, was booked for ‘over-celebrating’.
The health and safety executives among us may be giving a very astute nod of the head, after Diame went to celebrate with the Upton Park faithful. But if football can’t bring itself to let players enjoy a debut goal with their own fans, it doesn’t bode particularly well for the game as a whole.
Maybe it’s a view entrenched in nostalgia and one that doesn’t take into account the joys of humour that do currently exist in the game. But is it really asking too much of football to simply have a laugh now and again? They say it’s good for you. And for the beautiful game, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
Where do you think football’s sense of humour has gone? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me where it’s hiding.