Modern Football: Moving Forward or Two Steps Back?

Memories of an experimented football supporter

Alejandro Tadic is 93 years old. Despite the inevitable effects of a long life, he is still as alive and bright as a young lad. His memory is filled with plenty of unforgettable moments, such as his childhood in Bolivia, his youth in Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires, and his 60 years spent in Colombia; a country that welcomed him and where he settled after living in different cities. Amongst all the anecdotes and adventures he stores in his memory, there is nothing that excites him more than talking about football; or what he calls it, good football.

Nowadays, Alejandro is a TV aficionado like any other young or aged person. Because of his age, he sometimes forgets about paying the bills, but he’ll always be punctual with his TV bill. Hence, football becomes his daily key activity in his apartment in Bogotá, Colombia. For him, the Champions League is a football institution, the Copa Libertadores a devotion, and the World Cup a dream. Those are definitely tournaments that encourage him to keep watching good football on his TV.

He still gets the shivers when remembering the football he used to play at the Academy of the Stormers de Sucre in Bolivia when he was 17 years old; a style of play very similar to the one exhibited by the Universidad Católica in Santiago de Chile - the team he supported whilst studying in the 1930s. It was almost the same quality of good football that captivated him during his spell in Buenos Aires, when he had the opportunity to watch the kids play in the Colegiales neighbourhood and while visiting the majestic Bombonera in the early years after it was erected.

In Colombia, good football had its best advocates in the Millonarios team of the 1950s, filled with international stars like Alfredo di Stefano after the boycott of the Colombian League to FIFA - a period called El Dorado. Even now, Alejandro rejoices when bringing back the memories of his beloved clubs, Boca Juniors and Millonarios, as well as his preferred adoptive national teams: Argentina and Germany. "A football with class, commitment and responsibility with the fans" as he considers it; because when he follows them, he feel he is on the pitch, side by side with the players, and away from the TV set.

However, Alejandro seriously believes football has changed significantly, and for the worse. He now labels it as 'little girls’ football', a sport that embraces advertisement and fake supporters. He emphasises how it is now a show that has flooded our TVs to make us believe the beautiful game is indeed a luxury entertainment filled with celebrities; a mafia without any prejudice. To him, the football we have now is replete with fake stars and divas. It is now a sport in which talented players like Di Stefano, Maradona, Cruyff or Beckenbauer are long gone.

Alejandro, my grandfather, is still not sure whether his current physical condition, which keeps him away from football grounds, has kept him apart from good football. Or perhaps good football just doesn't exist anymore; the football that is born in the community and for the fans, that encourages supporters to jump onto the pitch from the terraces, and where everyone has a voice. That good football he was fortunate enough to experience in the past, the one linked to fervour and transparent management.

My grandfather was the one who taught me what football is all about. I cannot forget his call every Thursday night to remind me to turn on the TV and watch the Bundesliga. And again, another call the following day to remind me that there were Argentinian League matches on that night. This process would repeat itself week after week after week. Therefore, I believe that modern football has NOT evolved; it is everything but the good football my grandfather taught me. I have grown weary of watching this football on TV, as it is just a hollywood business in which kids become more interested in the celebrity than the sport.

Many supporters perceive that the transformation of football into a business is a natural condition. The new business model of football clubs has turned supporters into customers, and sponsors take advantage of our loyalty to flood us with their marketing campaigns. This globalisation of football, with the broadcasting media as its main income source, is becoming harmful for supporters.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who considers that football is heading into the abyss. A new global supporter movement has been shaped to raise our voice, and it is starting to be heard. For instance, initiatives amplifying concerns on ticket pricing, reinvestment of TV money, diversity, and safe standing have been brought to the public agenda. At the same time, an emergent market like Colombia, which lacks a clear institutional framework, has added new mobilisations to the agenda, such as #NoMasPostobon, #AsambleaYa, #ExigimosFutbolParaTodos and #AmericaParaElPueblo, all of which have strengthened the impact of the supporter movement.

In Europe, supporter groups have decided to promote campaigns, mobilise and request something very basic to club directors and politicians; Football is not a business like any other, and supporters must be respected. Thanks to the reach of social media and new technologies, we are constantly informed on how the identity and heritage of supporters is frequently broken. Cases related to the changing of club colours, badges or club names are happening with increasing frequency. A tradition also being disrupted when club owners and directors take clubs into administration due to bad management practices. Furthermore, the transformation of clubs into transnational corporations that have rapidly forgotten about their own values and identity due to private interests, has negatively affected the relationship with fans.

In this sense, it can be stated that football as an industry is at its peak, but culturally is at its lowest level. The beautiful game must stop being a transactional good, managed as any ordinary asset or corporation that can be put into debt without any restrictions, and capriciously changed with regards to its name, ownership or shareholders. Football must go back to its roots and supporters should recover their relevance.

It is a big challenge, and what matters most today is to create awareness on what is happening. What we have to aim for is to give back the beautiful game, that we unfortunately allowed to shift into a luxury entertainment, to the next generation. Hopefully there it is still a chance to recover the good football Alejandro experienced and that he is still yearning in front of the TV. It will be never too late.