- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Mar 16
Its '80s nostalgia week in HP towers, so now seems an opportune time to look back at the decade that rocked my sporting cradle and recall the good, the bad and the mullets.
The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that, while nostalgia tends to tint everything in a rosier light, now is a far better time to be a sports junkie than, say, 1989. Certainly in terms of quantity and choice, we live in the sort of sporting universe we could only have dreamed of back then. Indeed it is now possible to spend one’s entire 24/7 waking life consuming sport, if one so wishes. Little things like spouses, kids, jobs, friends, social lives etc can get in the way of course, but only to the extent that one lets them.
The flipside of all this is that one can get jaded, or even overdose on the stuff. Few of us have the appetite to sit through three or four matches in one day on a regular basis: such saturation consumption used to be reserved for special occasions, such as World Cups. It’s also arguable that the magic of the latter has been slightly diminished by the fact we now have football all year round. But to those who yearn for the way it was, think carefully: would any of us willingly rewind to a state of affairs where the FA Cup Final, Ireland internationals and the Charity bloody Shield were more or less the only live offerings? Where televised League football was basically restricted to Match of the Day and The Saint & Greavsie?
And those Cup Finals…how huge they seem now, how absolutely seismic. The competition has been devalued horribly over the last couple of decades: the super clubs are less at fault here than the legions of mid-ranking Premiership and promotion- chasing Championship sides who treat the great old pot as an inconvenient irrelevance, routinely sending out ‘shadow’ squads, terrified that the prospect of two or three extra fixtures might derail whatever great plans they have in mind for day-to-day League combat. Doubtless they have their reasons: Wigan Athletic’s board, for instance, might
point to 2013, when they won the Cup and got relegated, as an example of the perils inherent in fighting on too many fronts. But something tells me it’s a season their fans will always cherish for all the right reasons.
I entered the ’80s as a bouncingfive-year-old and waved goodbye to them as a spiky-haired 15-year-oldbarking brat. The first match in my memory banks is an FA Cup Final: I recall vaguely favouring Arsenal over West Ham on the basis that the Gunners had an Irish player, John Devine, but it would be an exaggeration to say I ‘watched’ it. By contrast, the next year’s instalment, where Man City lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to a magical Spurs side with a sprinkling of skillful Argentines, is a very vivid memory, and marks the point at which I ‘adopted’ City, leading to two-and-a-half decades of (by and large) absolute humiliation, eventually yielding to redemption and triumph from (roughly) 2008
onwards, which of course coincides with the point where the club was bought by an obscenely oil-rich posse of Arab sheikhs, enabling us/ them to buy more or less any player we/they liked the look of, provided they were willing to put up with the rain in Manchester, where it still rains as often and as miserably as it did in 1988.
Ah yes: the money. Unquestionably, this is the one area in which football has become far less appealing as the decades have passed: it’s now, far more clearly than ever, a dog-eat-dog rich-get-richer jungle where only those with very deep pockets may aspire to scale the highest peaks. Leicester’s preposterous exploits this year notwithstanding, it’s
become vaguely soul-destroying to watch the divide between haves and have-nots widen to a gaping chasm. Almost every major European league now follows a painfully predictable pattern: some have four or five title contenders, others are grisly monopolies (If you want to see competitive football reduced to Orwell’s vision of a boot stamping upon a human face eternally, just take a look at the current German and French league
The English league, the one most of us devote most of our attention to, is an exception to the rule: there’s a very healthy democratic look to this season’s table, it is unlikely that anyone will get within an ass’s roar of 80 points, and the two League-leading title favourites at the time of writing are teams who kicked off the season at prices of 150/1 (Spurs) and 5,000/1 (Leicester). This is a wonderful state of affairs compared to 10 years ago, where a rapacious ‘Big Four’ invariably raced miles clear of the rest by October at the latest. And let’s not kid ourselves that the ’80s were an equal-opportunities paradise; Liverpool towered over the rest like a colossus. But there is a more general point that, in terms of competitive equality of opportunity, club football has taken a sharp turn for the worse. Aberdeen beating Real Madrid in the final of the ’83 Cup Winners’ Cup (RIP) is not a sight one expects to see repeated any time soon.
All things evolve: art, cinema, music, politics – sport is no different. And in sport as in any other field, there is a natural tendency to view one’s formative experiences with a reverence we don’t always accord to the present day. The immortal sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney penned his farewell column last weekend at the age of 82, and while the man couldn’t write a dull or mediocre sentence if his life depended on it, I have to part company with him on the Maradona vs Messi debate. Standards of athleticism nowadays are in a different universe, and Messi routinely makes the magical look routine week-in
week-out. Precisely because we get to watch him every week if we so wish, it almost comes to seem routine, unexceptional, in some way almost normal. It is anything but, and in truth the Suarez-Messi-Neymar axis now strutting its stuff at Barca surely has to be the greatest forward line ever assembled. But that’s the beauty of it all: these debates can never be settled, everyone’s perspective is different, the game goes on forever and the dreaming never ends. Long live football; long live sport. Looking forward to 2046’s ‘Noughties Nostalgia’ pieces already.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18