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Billy Reeves Headshot

Football, the Nostalgia of the Future?

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I'm sick of football nostalgia porn. How football's lost it's 'soul'. The good ol' days of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Mud-caked, chisel-chinned, fag-smoking, vicious-tackling Bremners, Choppers and Toshacks. There's clearly a large market place for it. But I'm bored with it.

When a man gets to his 40s he becomes nostalgic for when he was eight. He wishes Brian Moore was on The Big Match after Sunday lunch and the FA Cup Final coverage started at 11am with a bunch of Liverpool & Everton fans taking part in a cut-price edition of It's a Knockout. But, this is selective memory.

Allow me a pop music analogy. If you've been watching the re-runs of Top of the Pops you'll know what I mean. We've forgotten all the shit that was around, and just remember and eulogise over the good stuff, Bowie, Krafwerk, Dr Feelgood - those pop records that we now consider to be culturally relevant. But culturally relevant pop was difficult to find, as it is now. We've forgotten Brendan, Pilot and The Rubettes country-rock period, and sprayed Boney M, ELO & Don't Go Breaking My Heart with the pleasant scent of kitsch.

Same with football. If you believe open terraces, skins with Stanley knives, getting coined at the railway station, unpoliced 'football special' trains, pitch invasions, running battles with police horses and throwing bananas at John Barnes were good - you want your head testing. Either that or you weren't there; I went to very few football matches in the '70s - I was too scared - I saw all of the above.

And don't even get me started about the bloody bogs.

Also, stop moaning about the financial rewards given to players, the ridiculous levels of debt and payola given to agents, unless you have a Marxist analysis. Football has been this way since Blackburn Olympic put up a fence around their ground and the football clubs of the industrial north and west Midlands started charging the locals to watch a game (giving them something to do with the half-day on Saturdays newly granted them by the factory act of 1856, rather than organise a Communist revolt). If you think football's too expensive then write to your MP and the local cop shop: the clubs have to pay for the police and for loads of stewards - you're paying for a safe environment. You'll pay less at Milan or River Plate but, by gum, you won't feel safe.

If we are going backwards to improve football going forwards, then let's go ALL the way back. Let's repeal some of the changes to the laws. (Ones that don't cost any money, mind: one of the prettiest tenets of the game is that it can be played to the same rules with the same equipment wherever the match is taking place, hence my objection to 'goal-line technology', which would make one game more important than another). Here's some from 1863 I'd bring back:

• Whoever gets to the ball first gets the throw in. I'd love to see the crowd getting involved in that too.

• The 'making of a mark', i.e. one could take a clean catch and take a free kick. It would be great if at least one player could do this, perhaps he could wear a special hat to denote him (I've never understood why only the goalkeeper has special powers. The wearing of roller-skates was only outlawed specifically in 1922, that would be good, but would break my rule of 'no expense').

But the biggest change that the game desperately needs is one that looks forward into the future, and would cause expense. Professional athletes are getting taller. Goalkeepers are 8" taller on average than in 1863 when the size of the goal was agreed upon. It's time to make the goals bigger. That'd be amazing.

So, what's the nostalgia of the future? Perhaps we'll mourn Jim Rosenthal. Or all the football that's free-to-air on telly - before the elite clubs set up their own channels. Clubs have always gone bust and stitched up their local creditors, but I hope new clubs, hopefully on a correct financial footing, come through.

Football's great now. The AMEX is better than the Goldstone. The new Shed is nicer than the old Shed. There's still a pub on each corner at Griffin Park.

The gentlemanly behaviour last Sunday at White Hart Lane proves it: Football has PLENTY of soul.

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