Football's Broad Shoulders

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Football means different things to different people. It would be interesting to hear from Bears abroad how football is viewed in their countries, as a recreational activity for males (quite a lot of Europe, I would imagine), a family based day out (the US and Far East might fall under this category) or the cracked, temperamental barometer of societal standards we see in Britain. You have to wonder, having digested the first few weeks of this new season, what status football has and should have in the UK of 2012.

The sad spectacle of the John Terry trial and subsequent FA punishment - let's not dignify it with the name of investigation or anything else which might suggest a relationship between fact and sentence - sums up the confusion football finds itself in. Unable to please anyone, the best intentions of ruling bodies seem only to infuriate everyone. Despite finding Mr Terry thoroughly unpleasant (to go from his media profile - not as if I know the guy) it doesn't add up for people to chastise the FA for banning and fining someone on the most circumstantial of evidence when a court of law has found him innocent. Let's hear people ripping the courts to bits...they may find themselves asked to explain themselves before the beaks, who are not the most tolerant of criticism.

What were the FA supposed to do? I believe they've pushed the law of the land as far as they can in this instance, indeed I believe they have pushed it beyond what it can reasonably stand. I may personally have no doubt John Terry used the language he did in an abusive manner, but if it can't be proved in a court of law then I have no right to punish him, no matter how much I may wish to. In order to avoid the dread charge of not taking discrimination seriously, the FA have acted.

Even the tabloid media have to come to heel when the courts deliver a verdict; why is it that people expect football to be able to tackle society's issues, such as racism, when society itself struggles to do so?

Football is expected to fulfill all the criteria of what seems to me to be a middle class wankfest of acceptable values. Prematch build ups must contain a minute's silence (or applause if there's a chance someone will spoil it by shouting out..I don't buy this 'importing from European culture' idea for one minute) even when the people being remembered have zero connection with the club or even the game, while the main, nay only influence on kids is how they see footballers behaving on their TV screens. It doesn't say much for aspirational parenting if Mum or Dad can't point out to their impressionable youngsters that so and so is a slimeball and in no way a model to aspire to.

Objecting to such behaviour can leave you looking like a throwback, happy to - how is it usually put? wallow up one's knees is vile bile. The lack of imagination when it comes to the language of condemnation is quite telling, I feel, and worthy of closer study. It's become a shorthand, with a packet of catch all expressions reflecting a knee-jerk mindset which doesn't examine issues, merely tries to fit the perceived 'acceptable position' or exploit them.

Hard to believe, but Phil McGillivan is a good example of this; when outed as a loon the Sun said he was 'tarred with the sickening brush of sectarianism'; sectarianism may be, for some, a live issue outwith Old Firm bickering, but it doesn't make them sick, either metaphorically or literally. When the language becomes meaningless, it is hard to believe the sentiment is genuine.

We are no strangers to seeing football held under the microscope in a way politicians, artists, businessmen and so on are rarely if ever studied. The great issues of football which are highlighted - sectarianism, violence, anti-social behaviour rarely touch on my life (only the last and that only occassionally), so why such a massive focus?

I can understand why a Nationalist party of government would be sensitive to the image of the nation, and that events such as the sending of devices to football managers would see them sprinting to the drawing board to do what governments always do when faced with potential unrest from below, introduce a new law. The stricter policing we've seen at away games is another example of how the rulers react when they perceive a threat from the ruled.

Nevertheless, while the game must come under ultimate control of the state, and as such will have to swallow some laws it does not care for, there are surely more pressing matters in our society than how football operates. Few can have missed the economic pressures of the last five years; our attitudes to drink remain rooted in the middle ages, where people mistrusted water and took to ale instead; drugs remain endemic across the land, regardless of age or status; the list goes on.

The whole set up seems crazy. If the most important thing the UK has to worry about just now is how football reacts to incidents, Britain must be one hell of a place to live. Well, it is, but not in a good way. Expecting attitudes in football to do all the work for the rest of society is not a sound basis on which to go forward to the great sunlit future, in my eyes. Yes, there are many issues football can address and improve, but you could say the same for every walk of life in the country.

The day I see the board of a corrupt and/or failed bank treated the same as John Terry, the day I see a corrupt and/or crooked politico treated the same as John Terry, the day I see a lunatic 'entrepeneur' who has made off wilth millions treated the same as John Terry will be the day I accept using football as the test for the rest.

Football clubs have to shoulder the burden of fan hopes, dreams and expectations. Last Wednesday night I was forcibly reminded how much The Rangers mean to me, how much emotional energy I invest in hoping the team in blue wins. Of course the game does not exist in a vacuum, but ff we choose to add to the load with society's woes, we're asking football to take far too much of the strain; the fear has to be that neither can cope . I cannot see how that would make either football, or society, better.

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