UEFA’s Calamitous Countdowns Not Needed In Football

LogoFootball supporting should be an organic process; something that arises and grows spontaneously, without the help or hindrance of any outside instruments. There is no better sight or sound than a stadium chorus rising as one singular entity, emerging impulsively as one or two voices transform into thousands. There are many better sights, however, than a shambolic, disorganised and synthetic attempt at generating atmosphere – something that has been all too prevalent at Euro 2012.

Increasingly in modern football we have seen the creeping growth of an Americanised style of spectatorship, one in which forced enjoyment and entertainment is placed above true spontaneity. Cheerleaders, choreographed chanting, goal celebration music and an increasingly desperate array of pre-match entertainment have all becomes staples of the football watching experience, often without a single word of consent from those subjected to them. At Euro 2012, though, the ‘countdown to kick-off’ has taken the fabricated nonsense imposed upon fans to a whole new level.

Presumably when deciding to introduce this new fangled idea to their showpiece international event, UEFA envisaged that fans would become entangled is some form of fervent frenzy, whipped up by the unbearable anticipation. Yet this was a gross misjudgment. There are so many things wrong with the concept, which makes less sense in theory than it does in practice.

Firstly, whilst kick-off can arouse the first moments of crowd excitement, the process itself and subsequent action rarely breaks free from the clutches of bland, insipid passages of play. Try searching for a compilation of the best kick-offs of all time and you will be thoroughly disappointed; equally, an attempt to find a football fan who enthuses with glee over the exploits of the world’s greatest kick-off takers would prove just as elusive. The kick-off is quite possibly the most monotonous facet of the game – quite why UEFA thought a countdown to a two yard rolled pass followed by a hopeless boot out of touch would prove successful is baffling.

Then of course there is the anarchic, frankly farcical execution of the countdown. With players, officials, fans and viewers all bursting to get the game underway it seems ridiculous that the referee should have to wait for irrelevant and illogical countdown to start proceedings. In some games players have been ready and waiting for up to a minute, simply kicking their heels at the orders of some misinformed suit at UEFA who believes football needs this form of juvenile spectacle to maintain interest. It does not.

The irreverence for the process is shown each time it is attempted: fans do not bother joining in whilst referees and players simply kick-off before the countdown can come to its cringeworthy conclusion. In fact the referee has an inherent right to begin the match whenever he likes, with the countdown merely a seedy sideshow baring no connection to the official start time. In one game a team kicked-off on the count of zero, though the referee had not blown his whistle and the game had to be re-started. The countdown brought nothing but confusion and absurdity.

Likewise, another element of the modern game seen all too much at Euro 2012 is the post-goal celebration music. A feature at far too many English football grounds, the notion disregards entirely the whole essence of celebration in football. It is a beautiful occurrence  to embrace total strangers and instinctively break into celebratory chorus. It is a ghastly occurrence when this is rudely curtailed and drowned out by a trashy Euro-trance remix. Anyone who had any appreciation of ‘Seven Nation Army’ will never be able to listen to it again with an approving ear after enduring its tasteless murder at Euro 2012. Sadly fans have been all too implicit in this.

Whilst football can not remain in the dark ages of entertainment, there is also a forthright tradition which underpins it appeal. The attraction for many football fans is the fact that the game still upholds many conventions which make it Europe’s most popular spectator sport: communal togetherness, spontaneity and an unpredictable nature. A continuation of these artificial attempts to generate atmosphere may well push more people away from stadiums.

Football as a spectacle should be enough. When Liverpool fans broke into a rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ after their Carling Cup Final victory earlier this year, the most recognisable and distinguished of football traditions, the PA system decided to boom the record version mercilessly across Wembley half way through. It submerged the supporter’s voices and cut all natural atmosphere dead. Far from enlivening or enriching the football watching experience, these gimmicky ploys do all they can to suffocate the very essence of football fandom.

Do you think UEFA’s gimmicks have help or hindered atmosphere at Euro 2012? Tweet me @acherrie1