Pitch Perfectly Highlights The Cracks In The Experience

Darren Young

@WeGrowSport

Darren is one of the founders and Managing Director at GroSport and has worked for The Fan Experience Company since 2017.

A UEFA Mentor, he has worked with federations and clubs across Europe to improve their match day experience, implement new strategies for different fan groups and to develop fan engagement initiatives. 

More of his articles can be found in his weekly column on the D3D4 Football website. 

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.

 

He did have a point, that Michelangelo geezer.

But then he lived in different times; before we had to contend with social media and the internet, before Brexit or VAR and a time when people could still aspire to real greatness without there being any kind of ceiling (well, apart from the obvious one).

But these days, are we all in danger of setting our bar way too low?

Case in point: Jesse Lingard. Or rather a goal of his. First of all, the on-loan wide forward been excellent for West Ham since he went there on loan. No question. But although I didn’t watch their game at Wolves a couple of Monday’s ago, when I read the report the next day and saw that Jesse had scored a ‘goal of the season contender’, I immediately looked it up online.

I was expecting something like the Sistine Chapel of goals, or at least the sculpture of Moses, but it was neither, although to be fair the Wolves team did part like the Red Sea. Now don’t get me wrong. It was a good goal, a really good goal in fact. But Goal of the Season contender? I’m not having that. Not one single Wolves player made an attempt to stop him and their defence and midfield had more holes than the BBC’s Swiss Cheese Model. I don’t think I’m being unfair either. Watch it back yourself if you think I am. When put alongside previous goals of the season, it’s like comparing St. Peter’s Basilica with a three-bed semi.  

Some, like Robin Van Persie and Jamie Vardy, showed amazing skill and technique, others were wonderfully accurate strikes from long range like Vincent Company’s, or spectacular overhead kicks / shins (delete as applicable) from Wayne Rooney and Emre Can into the top corner. Occasionally they are a frankly surreal moment (Papu Cisse) that defies logic, and maybe even physics.

More comparable to Lingard’s effort was the 2019/20 winner when Son Heung-Min ran even further to score against Burnley at Wembley. But Son beat at least two players in his own half and hurdled another challenge after that before he could even think about shooting. If Lingard’s goal is a contender, then I’m afraid we’ve lowered our standards. But is it more a case of a lazy journalist succumbing to unnecessary hyperbole to make more of something than is really there?

Another pet hate of mine – almost as annoying as referring to ’10-man Everton’ if they had a player sent off in the 87th minute – when it comes to match reporting, is the use of the word ‘thrash’. On any given day, they’ll be a reference in the headlines to a team being thrashed.

Now, I quite like the word, and it definitely feels like it has a place in football. But within limits. I’m not saying that the word thrash should only be reserved for whichever Premier League team beats Southampton 9-0 in any particular season, and there’s no doubt that eight, seven and six goal beatings are thrashings too. I’d even go as far as the odd 5-0 or maybe, in some circumstances, 5-1s (but only at a push).

But these days I’ll read a headline that says ‘City thrash Fulham’, and I get conned into thinking ‘wow, what happened there?’ only to find it was 3-0. Three-bleeding-nil. I’ve seen some football matches where the team who won 3-0 was lucky to win at all. It’s not a result that should, ever, be described as a thrashing. My worry is that it’s the thin end of the wedge.  How long before 2-0 becomes a thrashing? By the end of this decade, someone will go there. They’ll be a ‘Kilmarnock thrashed by Celtic’ or ‘Barcelona thrash Gijon’ headline staring at you and you’ll be intrigued and then you’ll find it was actually 2-0, with the second goal coming in added time against 10-men (although only from the 87th minute).

Where is this going? Well, it got me thinking about the low bar when it comes to the match day experience. Generally speaking, footy fans have always had pretty low expectations on that. In the pre-Covid game (it was also the one – if you can recall that far – where VAR wasn’t deliberately trying to spoil it) fans used to put up with a lot. Especially off the field, which the club can control a lot more than what happens on it.

We tolerated some really piss poor things, quite literally at times, such as the floor of the toilets, and metaphorically, as in most of the rest of the match day. Think back. I bet some of these apply to your most recent experiences, if you can remember that far back, at a game.
  • Cold water from the hot taps? Check
  • No loo rolls or locks on the toilet doors? Check
  • Queues? Lack of information? No response to a question on social media. Check.
  • Luke-warm pie? Check. Luke-warm beer? Check
  • Grumpy match-day staff? I’d be amazed if there wasn’t at least one.
  • No entertainment? You bet. Neither on nor off the pitch at times.

 

Yet we kept going back. Or at least we used to. But who knows what our tolerance levels will be like in the post-Covid world? The jointly ludicrous / hilarious ‘Bye Jurgen, thanks for the wonderful memories’ post on the BBC app by a Liverpool fan suggests they’ll be lower.

Meanwhile, in the non-football world, things seem to be changing already. While we have little choice in putting up with some things at a national level (terrible governance, anyone?), at an individual level, the pandemic has been a game changer in some ways.

We’ve all had time to reflect, think about what we want and reset. Rather than glide through our lives on auto-pilot, we have had an opportunity to change our habits. Everyone I talk to has either changed, or intends to change, theirs. I know that I’ve personally stopped doing things I thought I’d never wean myself off, and started doing things I only ever dreamt about. A year or more in isolation will do that for you. But there are smaller changes too.

As an example, one of my best (and certainly most profitable) decisions of the first lockdown was to stop shopping at my local Sainsburys superstore because it was such a horrible customer experience. Not only did I save myself a fair few quid (I’d not realised how overpriced everything was until I shopped around) but the product quality was better too (no more returning meat that’s well within its best before date but has still gone grey).

In the past, I’d put up with it for some reason; quite probably inertia mixed with a lack of time but the new me – the reset one – wasn’t putting up with it for a second longer. At roughly a hundred quid a week for a family of four, that decision has already cost them £5K just from me alone. How much that translates over a number of years is mind-boggling – especially if my actions influence family and friends to do the same. Lifetime value numbers can be BIG. And the lifetime value of a football fan is a number that football clubs need to start waking up to.

Now maybe I’m the one guilty of painting an unrealistically bleak picture. Maybe fans will simply revert to type in August when turnstiles reopen properly and make us wonder what the fuss was about. Maybe they’ll accept the same-old, same-old, just like they did before. If so, and I hope in a way that they do, then there won’t be any problem and clubs will continue to cash in on supporters in the same way they always have.

But the question that surely must be asked, and that would be keeping me up at night if I owned a football club in this current climate, would be…

…what do we do if they don’t?

Originally published on The Fan Experience Company website on 15.04.21