PT Barnum coined the phrase to refer to his first ever circus including
its famous menagerie of freaks. Which is somewhat ironic for it could
almost refer to the past four weeks of global football. It is curious that
a game which has been played for little more than a century, and only in
the past thirty years with any real global standing, should nowadays signify
so much to so many.
The estimated global audience for Sunday night's World Cup Final was
two billion - twenty-two million of whom viewed it in England (fifteen million on the
BBC for the record). Of those two billion how many watched it, like me,
hoping for the style and openness of the 1970 final - surely one of the
best games of football ever witnessed. Sadly the game was destroyed
before the beginning with the row over Ronaldo and should he play or not
and I, like the rest of you, watched a scrappy affair that only showed true
emotion in the last few minutes when the French dream became a reality.
Now I am not complaining about the quality of the final. Finals are
rarely classics because there is too much to be lost by being heroic and
attacking from the start. What I am, however, complaining about is the
dominance of success in dictating the way in which games are played.
In the days of old, the true spirit of amateurism still pervaded the sport -
to play was an honour and the result, although important, was not
quite so significant. Yes, it sounds sentimental; yes, wake up Chris, we
live in the nineteen nineties not the eighteen nineties - but such arguments
assume the game we have today is so much better that we deserve to have a
game ruled by money and the multinational manufacturers of sports wear
The World Cup was "the greatest show on earth" because that is what
football has become - one giant show. No passion, no pride, no
commitment. Harsh? I think not. Loyalty is now, by and large, to the
cheque book not to the contract, club or nation. What does the
performance matter when you earn several million a year ? Pride and
commitment have been somewhat eliminated by the daft rule-making bosses
that are FIFA. The removal of virtually all forms of tackling has turned
the game into a procession of passes that are defended deep and without
risk. By removing the tackling element, FIFA has made it harder for flair
and opportunism to flourish as the skilful player can no longer dance
aside a rash lunge or an over-commitment. I don't advocate the tackling
of yesteryear but I think it has gone too far. The players are, at
times, mere puppets on a vast stage, albeit well paid ones.
TV rules both nationally and globally. The timing of matches co-ordinated
for maximum global coverage - not the interests of the players or fans.
The argument is that the game could not survive without the money - which
is nonsense when it survived for a hundred years with relatively little outside
help. The greed of the players means that television money is now needed to
satisfy their demands, not the clubs. The day to day expenditure of clubs
has only risen because players' demands have increased exponentially
compared to inflation.
Still, who am I to complain ? One fan in two billion. A lone voice who
keeps ranting on about money ? Well, yes, but with good cause. When I
started watch Watford regularly in 1983 the money explosion was a few
years down the line. Players still played, in part, for the love it.
Crazy scorelines week in week out as teams attacked to win, not defended
and hoped. Players giving their all for a cause and staying loyal to it
- not jumping ship for more money. Now that has gone and it is not
necessarily for the better. I miss those crazy scorelines. Mistakes
anticipated, not slaughtered across the national press for days or even
weeks. Perhaps I have a tainted view, for I was a child looking at an
adult game from my lowly perspective - perhaps I have grasped that
football is now one big show and will suffer for it one day. Until then,
in the words of Queen - The show must go on.....