Mini Blether – New Experiences

As the relentlessness of Covid and the various lockdowns and restrictions continue, one is often reminded or left dreaming of the simple pleasures of attending a football match. The clack of the turnstyles, aroma of Bovril, tongue scalding meatyness of a pie – Ah the joys.

However we are left with the slightly less sensual experience of TV football, from the sofa with four walls of finest Magnolia. This for many would be a source of despair and pessimism, but here at thefootballblether.com we are nothing if not optimistic and positive.

The restrictions in turn have brought into focus the finer points of what makes football so captivating for many. The passion, the turmoil, the emotion, the energy and possibly most importantly the characters who you encounter or share experiences with along the way.

A new, and now likely permanent, way of enjoying football is through the medium of a joint video call while all watching coverage of any big match. Yes, everyone is stuck inside and yes, cheering has to be kept to a minimum for fear of waking the kids and yes, there isn’t the same atmosphere or initial excitement of entering or travelling to a stadium to enjoy. However, if well prepared via the supermarket Click and Collect, the fridge can be stocked with beers, snacks can be had and of course you have the camaraderie, banter and analysis from your nearest and dearest on the video call to aid your enjoyment.

We first sampled this during Scotland’s successful Euro Qualification Playoff against Serbia back in November. Joint call set up, beers in the fridge and TV/live streams on the go we were all set. The benefits of social interaction, a video call where work stuff was off the agenda (for once) and of course a glorious Scotland victory were all notable. The fact that various live streams were at different times added a comical delay and shouts of “spoiler alert” at various points where members on the call collapsed onto the carpet in euphoria or disbelief simply added to the experience. The ability to analyse aspects or argue over whether the ball should have been cleared or whether the target should have been hit – in real time – made the viewing exponentially better.

The joint video call method of viewing, particularly in the current climate, is definitely highly recommended therefore.

One matter which has also been brought into focus through the above and through the limitations on match attendance is that the match itself needs to contain drama, goals or intrigue. While attending a 0-0 or 1-0 of a match in say the Scottish Premiership or English Premier League in person can hold some interest, be that tactical battles, formation changes, individual skills or crunching tackles, these aspects are often lost through TV. A drab game between Burnley and West Ham or Aberdeen and Motherwell is made significantly more dreary through watching on TV – with or without a video call.

This in turn has led to a Covid influenced move away from domestic football. Yes there is intrigue and interest in watching Celtic go on Covid spreader holidays and fall behind in the title race, or referencing the tight battle at the top of the English Premiership, but the individual games themselves have lost much of their attraction through TV. Half way through the season and my BBC iPlayer account shows very limited viewing of previous staples such as Match of the Day or Sportscene highlights.

If we are forced to watch on TV, the match needs to entertain and pull you in. Yes, as the Scotland example above shows if it is “your” team playing then of course there is a connection and the experience is improved, but there is also an argument to say that any connection is diminished through never watching in the flesh anyway.

Armchair fans may disagree. But from experience of being, say, an armchair Bundesliga fan or an armchair Serie A fan and then being lucky enough to attend games in those leagues, experience these in the flesh and establish that tangible connection, the wider appreciation and fandom becomes ever more pronounced.

So in a time when we are not currently able to travel or experience matches in the flesh, we are forced to expand our TV horizons and seek entertaining football in more exotic climates – step forward the Copa Libertadores.

Now, South America’s continental club competition has been shown on TV in Europe in previous years and has always warranted a passing interest by most football fans. However as above with waning interest in domestic matches, I have found myself researching teams, looking at form tables and asking the ever important question of “who should I support?”.

The recent semi finals between Argentine and Brazilian teams resulted in wins for Palmeiras and Santos against the possibly more fabled Boca and River or Argentina. Good, interesting matches but as above, football is made better by the characters that you encounter along the way – this for me includes players.

There is something incredibly romantic about seeing a Brazilian take a 20 yard run up for a free kick (stoking memories of Roberto Carlos) and melt a free kick towards goal, such as Marinho of Santos against Boca. Similarly, as per the quarter final between Nacional of Uruguay and River of Argentina there is a magic to seeing a goalkeeper (Rochet of Nacional) race out of his goals with a flying karate kick, nowhere near winning the ball, in the 18th minute of a crucial game. These characters, these instances, these little quirks which are seldom seen in top level Scottish or English football (maybe by some nutter down the park on a Sunday morning – unfortunately not televised though) add the much missed intrigue and interest. They offer talking points with friend, colleagues and allow for that shared connection with teams and with football.

So while Covid and lockdown holds us back, limits our ability to find new football experiences and can seem to limit us to watching a drab 0-0 on pay-per-view, there are ways and means of finding new ways and appreciating the game we love. We just need a bit of positivity and innovation. And a 20 yard run up. And a mental karate kick.

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