We met as usual under cover of darkness, our cloaks wrapped tightly about us, our wide-brimmed hats pulled low over our eyes. Mumbled passwords admitted us to the small back room of a safe house where, by the light of a guttering candle, we cast grotesque shadows against the grim walls and shared our whispered secrets.
Ours is, of necessity, a hole-and-corner business. If word leaked out we would be in peril, outcasts in our own country, our physical wellbeing threatened, our sanity questioned. For ours is the other creed that dare not speak its name. We are the enemies of football.
Ours is not an underground movement, a maquis bent on sabotage, we are not anarchists, still less insurrectionists. If a parallel must be drawn, it is with a small cell that defies the religious orthodoxy. We are not plotters, but dreamers yearning for a reformation, a tearing down of false idols and grandiose floodlit temples, a de-mythologising of men in shorts.
To give you an idea of the risks we run, it is as though we dared to speak ill of Diana during the reign of hysteria that followed her death. For the truth of it is that we want England to be booted out of the World Cup at the earliest opportunity. We are of a delicate disposition and cannot stomach the braying tabloid triumphalism that attends English success, however small. We loathe the pervasive intrusiveness of football and are sickened by players and supporters alike.
We can see that football brings out the worst in our national life. It is an excuse for tribalism, hatred, violence, and intimidation. It provides an opportunity for all manner of misfits and inadequates to submerge themselves in the mob and draw a kind of bogus strength from it. It is a means by which second-rate politicians can indulge in populist posturing. It is, above all, a bizarre expression of institutional greed and stupidity, and for that marketing must take its share of blame.
It was the desire to market Sky TV that prompted Rupert Murdoch to pump unprecedented sums of money into football, giving clubs the illusion that they had earned it and were worth it. Where Murdoch led, others followed – and at the last count £3bn had sloshed into the game. What happened to that money is proof that football is a game for idiots run by idiots.
In a rational world, a revenue-rich business would build a strong balance sheet, diversify to spread risk, and invest in the future. Football did none of those: it blew its windfall on players’ wages, transfer fees, and agents’ commission. And what has it got to show for it? Last season, the 92 English league teams enjoyed a 13 per cent growth in revenues to reach the £1bn mark for the first time, and yet they made aggregate pre-tax losses of £145m. Less than 20 clubs are profitable or ever look like being so.
It’s figures like these that give heart to the brotherhood when it meets by candlelight. And when ITV Digital pulled the plug, such was our rejoicing and so loud the clanking of our pewter pots in exultant celebration that we almost gave our presence away, risking terrible retribution from the lumpen skinhead world without.
We raised a cup, too, to Beckham’s foot, though the inescapable coverage of the tabloid – and indeed broadsheet – press bore heavily down upon our celebrations, confirming, as it did, that the obsessed world outside was in the grip of a dreadful insanity.
Though we cloak ourselves perforce in the garb of the assassin, no plotters are we. We do not conceal beneath our cloaks football-shaped objects, fuses fizzing, and labelled “Bomb”. Search us and all you will find is a bottle or two of White Shield Worthington: this in grateful recognition of that brand’s decision to see sense and break free from its sponsorship of the League Cup.
For though we do not plot, we are not without strength. When football chiefs urged the nation to boycott Coronation Street in protest at the Nationwide League’s loss of TV revenues, we tuned in. We refuse to bank with Barclays, we shun the Nationwide. We will never set foot in pubs that boast “Big Screen Footie Tonite”.
We cannot in all honesty avoid the label of snob. Football is, after all, inextricably bound up with class. Owing to a current court case there is at present some discussion as to whether there is any longer a working class. In truth it is the dominant class. What makes it different from the downtrodden masses of old is that it is rich and therefore powerful. It is working class taste that prevails. The middle class now imitate the working class, which is why so many As and Bs follow football and speak in estuary English.
There are two infallible indications of membership of the working class. The first is support of a football team. The second is the habit when urinating of holding the privy member with the palm facing outwards towards the porcelain. In the days when smoking was widespread, the working class cigarette was cupped in the hand in the same fashion. There may be a similar giveaway to female membership of the proletariat, but I do not know what it is.