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Henry Cooke

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Hip to be Spherical: How Football Transcends Trend

Posted: 18/07/2012 17:28

For five years the forces of Social Media have waged an electronic campaign against our most understated quality: modesty. Favouring stealth over strength, the enemy concealed their weapons in the form of presents: MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter. The plan was beautiful in its simplicity, the opponents of humility had only to watch as we encouraged friends and relatives to unnecessarily broadcast their thoughts, before we turned the gun on ourselves.

The saturation of social media is so thorough that even England, with it's rich culture of cynicism, has embraced the twee, manufactured language of Twitter. Worse still, we're now showing-off in a fashion that is increasingly out of sync with a country traditionally associated with restraint. Loose lips once sank ships, now we post photos of Zoolandic posturing in the hope that a stranger might think we're cool.

While the pursuit of affirmation through the medium of cool isn't new, the ability to share your particular take on cool with the promise of instant, public approval certainly is. But if millions of people all try to be cool all of the time, then the value of cool must decrease, and if cool suffers from inflation...well, that's not cool. Owning a skateboard and a faded 'Shaft' t-shirt was once enough to be cool, but now?

We're on the verge of the world's first 'Cool Rush', an increasingly desperate scramble for material that is 'vintage' or 'ironic', but not 'good'. This desperation is the only plausible reason for drowning giga-pixel photos in faux-sepia, or being morally capable of wearing lensless glasses (surely they're just called 'frames'?) What next? Ironic neck-braces? Mute Opera? Steampunk Dialysis? If these concepts don't exist, they're probably all band-names.

Those seeking an escape from the madness of trend may find our safe havens are increasingly sensitive to the importance of cool; take sport, or more specifically football as a prime example. Our publicity-savvy athletes increasingly resemble exaggerated mannequins boasting bloated copies of existing trends: headphones like dinner-plates, jewel-encrusted Ramones t-shirts, platinum blonde high-tops resembling errant coral.

Unfortunately this self-indulgence can detract from a sport that, at its very core, is capable of nurturing more positive values. While football can house the worst of human behaviours, so can Twitter and Facebook; none encourage bullying or racist abuse, yet all facilitate it by their existence. But this is where similarities end, for social media may allow you to share a meme of a cat eating a muffin, but only football can teach the abstract values of loyalty and perseverance, or provide the comfort of a spiritual home.

Caught in the shifting sands of try-hard trends, our stadiums act as outposts of consistency, where loyalty to a single concept is not only respected, but rewarded. For all it's ridiculous excess, football remains our ultimate weapon in the fight against trend, but it's strength comes not from the players or chairmen, but from us, the fans.

We base our allegiance on something tangible: locality, familial ties, witnessing a remarkable game or moment. Most of us will have chosen our team before we're old enough to become distracted by cool, the decision is personal, private. There is no room for trend amongst fans, we mock glory-hunters and dismiss the opinions of fair-weather fans. Consider for a moment how often a London born Man Utd fan, regardless of their pedigree, must utter the words "...before they won anything" in a lifetime.

The air of suspicion that surrounds our stadiums may be excessive at times but it keeps football alert to the threat of narcissism and cool. Without constant vigilance football could be compromised by trend, and then we'd be helpless as 50% of the population supported Man City and 50% supported Canvey Island because it'd be ironic.

Football's basic qualities can often be clouded by controversy, so in these uncertain times of trend, it pays to reflect on a sport that can be a force for good. To demonstrate the merits of being a fan over being trendy, let us consider the following, totally objective, series of comparisons. For the sake of consistency, each case-study compares supporting a generic football club with buying a pair of trendy, tight-fitting red trousers.

Example 1. Football : You chose your club because you live nearby or your Grandfather liked it, this encourages a personal connection. If you like the club because it's 'trendy' you will be marginalised.

Example 1. Red Trousers: You chose your tight-fitting red trousers because they are trendy. Your Grandfather didn't wear tight-fitting red trousers because people might've mistaken him for a Communist. There is no meaningful connection with the trousers, they're not even comfortable.

Example 2. Football: You demonstrate your allegiance to your club by going to a match. You meet thousands of other people who are doing the same. Despite being one of many, you feel special. The concept of 22 men kicking a ball around suddenly seems less ridiculous.

Example 2. Red Trousers: You demonstrate your allegiance to your tight-fitting red trousers by wearing them to watch 'Steampunk Dialysis' play live at a gastropub. You see two other people wearing tight-fitting red trousers. Now that you are one of many, you don't feel special. The fragility of your value system is revealed in a horrifying moment of clarity.

Example 3. Football: You support your club for a season. They perform poorly and are relegated. Despite no longer being cool, your personal connection to the club ensures you remain loyal, this earns the silent respect of your peers and your Grandfather.

Example 3. Red Trousers: You wear your tight-fitting red trousers for a season. You are no longer cool because everyone is now dressing like Columbo. You keep thinking you can hear people quietly mocking you. They are. One of them is your Grandfather.

Example 4. Football: Thanks to the continued backing of its loyal fans, your club recovers its position within five years and wins the League Cup. Your perseverance is rewarded. You celebrate in unison with thousands of others.

Example 4. Red Trousers: You continue to wear your tight-fitting red trousers for five years. Despite sporadically being in and out of fashion, you are now too old to be wearing tight-fitting red trousers. Your nightmare will never end.

There will always be show-offs, there will always be cool, but the advent of social media has ensured that both seem more powerful than ever. To shield ourselves from online peacocking of others, to ensure our priorities do not become skewed by trend, we should appreciate our lasting passions more than ever.

The increasing demand for the random, the ironic and the vintage may one day lead us to challenge our need for brand loyalty. So as a new season approaches, appreciate your loyalty to your club for what it is: it is unique but it is free of irony, free from cool, and this makes you special. Just try not to brag about it.

 

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