I had a paper round when I was a kid. I used to deliver copies of the Evening Chronicle to homes in tough streets named after whimsical poets in East Stanley, County Durham.
I think I earned what literary tradition obliges me to describe as ‘the princely sum’ of £1.10 for a week of this. But there were fringe benefits. I could sneak a peak at the footie pages and see what the craic was with my team. Usually the answer was ‘very little’. Now, with the average person apparently spending nearly 3 hour online every day, the one thing I’m not short of is information on my team and football more generally.
This got me thinking. Has this changed our attitudes to our own clubs and to football more generally?
The Evening Chronicle was predominantly concerned with the fortunes of Newcastle United, but on a daily basis, I hoped for some small piece on the mighty Mackems (maybe an explanation from the manager for our latest poor performance). But, beyond a list of the evening’s sporting fixtures there was never more than a paragraph or two.
As for ‘deep analysis’, speculation, tactical assessment and ‘banter’, there was next to nothing. But back then, I was just a fan. Now, apparently, I’m a consumer. I used to follow football but, if the semantics are to be followed to their natural conclusion: I now eat it.
In the greater scheme of things, that paperboy was no more than an occasional ‘reader’: a fan of a local team, fanatical about football and liable to have entire weekends, if not decades, ruined by some depressingly predictable defensive cock-up involving Barry Siddall, Tim Gilbert and Mickie Henderson.
Now, the world has changed. Sports news is everywhere, all the time. I get ‘bites’ from Twitter. I get ‘snacks’ from apps & ‘brunches’ from on-line newspapers and, to follow this desperately unimaginative analogy one mouthful further; I get substantial meals from Sky and the BBC.
When I reflect on my world as a fan back in 1978, my consumption of football was rationed to watching Match of the Day (when sometimes they would show Division Two games featuring the Black Cats) and Shoot (Tyne Tees Television’s bumper Sunday afternoon feast of underwhelming North East club action) as well as gorging on the sports section of the Sunday Sun. Now it’s wall-to-wall coverage. So is the new 24/7, multi-channel, any-time-any-place, comprehensive service giving me what I want?
I’ve been thinking about how I consume sports now and how it’s changed. To be honest, I watch less and less TV these days (but a larger percentage of what I watch is sport). I watch Match of the Day live when I can (it’s just not the same recorded) usually only avoiding it if Sunderland have lost. Which means I hardly ever watch it. Bizarre behaviour: now that I come to think about it.
On a daily basis I flick through the Guardian’s sports pages, check twitter maybe once an hour, visit the BBC sports website and, if I’ve some free time at home and no one else is around (or, more pointedly, if my student son is around) we’ll put Sky Sports News on in the hope that we’ll witness Jim White noisily reaching orgasm while revealing that Sunderland are going to sign an unknown under-21 Croatian playmaker.
Official club websites have evolved in an unexciting direction too. From what I see, they mostly appear to be designed for use by clubs’ core supporters (containing club history, statistics, etc.) in spite of the fact that few, if any, core fans will ever use their club’s official website. Those people who probably do rely on them most are likely to be new fans, occasional visitors or even away supporters. And yet the information they need (how to get the best possible experience on their visit) usually isn’t there.
Thinking about my sports consumption has been an interesting exercise, especially when I ask myself how this explosion of information has affected my relationship with football. It’s certainly improved my access to information and the emerging concept of more informal sports-based entertainment is far more preferable to some of the grey formality of the past. However, having said that, I now laugh more, but trust what I get a lot less. I need more ‘truth’.
The object of our interest (the clubs) know the ‘truth’ but anyone with the tiniest appreciation of PR will note how depressingly restrained official channels can be, especially now that you can read ‘what really happened’ courtesy of ‘some bloke on a message board’ often, it has to be said, with more humour and honesty than genuine or reliable insight.
That is why Doncaster Rovers’ inspirational decision to communicate last season’s highlights v Fleetwood Town (an awful 0-0) as a 27 second video (players walking on to the pitch, game starting, ref blowing the full time whistle and then the players walking quickly off again) was a breath of fresh air. It was a refreshing departure from convention and genuinely gave airtime to the self-deprecating principles that define every football fan I know and, especially, that 15 year old paper boy.