It’s football without a soul

by Mystical Mike

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

The quest for real football

August 16th 2008. One of the worst days in memory of supporting Northampton Town and football in general. The stage was set for a Cobblers invasion of Milton Keynes. Over 3,000 away tickets had been sold as we made our way to neighbours Milton Keynes Dons for the first time in our history. This is a history that stretches back 111 years, whereas the Dons have hardly made it through a decade in existence.

I had my doubts before even travelling to Milton Keynes from Southampton. Not doubts as to whether I should go or not, but doubts as to whether the Dons would have pushed aside their bad press to host football in the right way at least.

But as soon as we had arrived we were surrounded by a ridiculous football venue. Everything about Stadium: mk, from the name of the ground to the numerous corporate ventures in and around the place, just stank of a sell out. The stadium itself is impressive, that’s not in question at all, but the things that got me was that there was no atmosphere at all from the home end and when the Cobblers fans fell silent there was an eerie silence around the place.

Even the one song that the home fans chanted was recycled from Millwall. You know the one, “no-one likes us, we don’t care.” Well, Dons fans, you should care. Every single one of those fans would have surely had a team before the creation of the Dons. Some came from Wimbledon, though not many, some from local residents who supported a Premier League side before and were jumping on this bandwagon, and some from local sides such as ourselves who can’t in any way compete with their monetary power.

This wasn’t football. It felt like a theatre, with the players putting on a show to its suited and booted audience. Lord knows what the owners would have thought had they been in the tiny away end bar before the game! The Cobblers fans were up for this one and any one of the corporate community that walked in to see how the visiting fans were doing would have ran with their prawn sandwiches under their arms. This, my good friends, is football.

I found myself pining for the days of open terraces at Brentford, standing for two hours in the snow and being hammered 4-0. I was pining for the days of Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury where there was not even a sink for away fans in the toilets. And I was pining for the days when you had to walk down cobbled streets to get to grounds in the middle of housing estates. This is football.

Some of these wonderful places do indeed still exist but probably not for long. Out of town stadiums are quickly replacing the traditional football grounds. No longer do you fear for your life while walking down a back alley nearby the incredible Vetch Field. No longer do you have to wipe your hands on the bloke next to you in the toilets at Gay Meadow. And no longer can I piss up the wall at our old County Ground. Well, I could, but the cricket team who still reside there wouldn’t be too happy. These, normally fearful and disgusting things, become cheer folklore in football. like “Do you remember this lot’s old place when the hot dogs were colder than the ice on the terraces?”

So I’m on a mission to rediscover real football and the reasons why I fell in love with the beautiful game. The best places to discover this is, of course, non league grounds but it still has to have something special about it to make me visit. So that’s why my quest will begin in the most perfect of places. On Bank Holiday Monday I’m going to visit Kingstonian, temporary home of…AFC Wimbledon.

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  • Jamie Farrier

    Ah, romantic stuff indeed. It does sound quite obvious ranting at MKFranchise and eulogising on a Ron Manager “jumpers-for-goalposts” style of football, but only because it’s true. There’s plenty of beauty in lower league football if you look in the right places. My personal favourite memory was biting in to a half-time burger on a chilly December afternoon away to Barnet, and it was the cliche football burger; warm and tender on the outside, stone cold frozen in the middle. The single enduring thought was, “this is what football actually TASTES like.”

    I’ll be joining Danny on his quest on Monday.

  • Jay

    i remember walking the plank at Gay Meadow, for those of you who are unaware of who plays there it’s Shrewsbury. We had a 1st leg Milk Cup tie mid winter, it was wet muddy and totally freezing. To get into the way end we had to walk along a blank of wood which was above a ditch full of muddy water, if you fell you had a very uncomfortable 90 minutes. No one fell, and we won 1-0, Michael Thomas scoring the only goal in a dismal game. It took 4 hours to get home due to the rain. But I was there, we won and that’s all that counts…

  • Danny Brothers

    Ah that’s what I’m talking about…I do remember that plank at Gay Meadow. I remember being very upset on our last ever visit there before they moved as it was one of the last of the real grounds.

    Incidently, if anyone wants to join the good fight, come and join us at AFC Wimbledon (Kingstonian F.C.) this Monday. It would be good to get a few more on board and I’m planning a few more of these trips in the upcoming months!

  • Darren

    AFC is my local club! if I didn’t have a bad neck i’d be up for joining you. I’m still to go there actually… I’ve been Plough Lane many a time.

  • Martinho

    Remember away at Watford, mid 80’s walking through an allotment for the away end. Yes, it was the official route. 180 miles for this? We sang bad songs about Elton John and we got done as I remember, lost the title to our nearest and dearest (or was that Oxford?) bah anyway, it WAS real football you could taste.

    If you still want to sample it, in the Premiership, come Goodison, it’s a proper old fashioned ground down back streets, next to alehouses you might want to swerve. I love the place, adore it, but even I can see it’s falling to pieces and is probably the second worst in the Premiership.

    You don’t get to taste football anymore. Football smells of prawns and money, and is totally taste-free. Yet another ‘commodity’ robbed from ordinary people by large corporations.

  • Darren

    it’s a catch 22 situation, because there is no denying football grounds are a safer place to be (The Den 1980’s) but somehow, football lost it’s integrity & soul when Sky came marching along waving millions at every football chairmen in the country, it’s a shame but it’s true. We do have better players, but we also have more people who know f**k all about the game, football are big brands, and big brands make big money!

    Check out this blog we wrote a few months ago

  • Martin

    Interesting article. Not sure about “their monetary power” though. They lost yet another £2.5m y/e June 2007 and have lost millions every year they’ve been in MK. Such huge losses are only sustained by the profits from the property development and those are drying up, especially since M&S pulled out of the last retail unit to be built for the obvious reason (the recession).

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