THE BLOG

Now the Football Season's Over...

20/05/2013 16:57 BST | Updated 19/07/2013 10:12 BST

Football is often accused of 'being out of touch', overly corporate and expensive and populated by indifferent and vapid dilettantes - a giant behemoth devouring all in its path. These calls reached their zenith during last year's Olympics, when all the shiny, happy and most of all successful people cast all of football's excesses - and the mediocrity of the recent Euro 2012 campaign - into sharp relief. Yet it remains so popular, even with sky-high ticket prices combined with a stagnant economy, with Premier League attendances higher than the last five years.

This brings me to the conclusion that the contrast with the Olympics is largely a false dichotomy, and that the Olympic is the nice but fleeting affair to football's abusive but inescapable long-term relationship, as Rory Smith brilliantly describes it. "The Olympics is a joyous, elating virus. Football is a condition," he soberly puts it.

Anyway, this came to mind as I turned off a very nondescript Maidstone road, into a muddy car park and walked straight in to a squash club (Mote) to see three of top 50 players in the world play (in the Kent Open). I came to think if there really was a more than fleeting appetite for fringe sports and a more financially equal sporting landscape, and one not tarred by allegations of racism, hooliganism, homophobia, greed and sexism, people could do far worse than squash.

I must admit, there are many more in the squash world better placed than me to say this. But coming at it as someone whose first love is football - though I've enjoyed playing squash for a long time - it's more apparent just how different the world of squash is to that of many other sports. Players often stay behind for a drink at the bar with fans, coaches, journalists, referees and opposition. And Alan Thatcher, head of Squash UK, acts as not only that, organising tournaments, but also eveverything from MC/promoter to interviewer to journalist. It would be like Sepp Blatter, in addition to organsing tournaments including the World Cup, writing about them for various publications, introducing teams and players before games and interviewing them afterwards. Suffice to say, there might be some conflicts of interests - and he's hardly got the cleanest reputation as it is. Equally, Tim Garner has been long playing at a professional level while also running a successful sports marketing and British Squash Professionals - even playing in the same event he's running!

But it just seems to work in squash. In part this is down to the tireless professionalism of these two and many others, but only in part. It wouldn't be unreasonable if squash players, journalists and coaches scrapped relentlessly for every last bit of the pie, given the relatively parlous state of the game's finances. (Most major (male) tournaments have prize money of about £100,000 (equivalent) and minor tournaments around £3,300 to £10,000, whereas Wimbledon winners get £1,150,000 and first round losers get £14,500. Of course this disparity reflects difference in popularity, but not players' dedication).

However, if anything the opposite seems to be true; and the lack of money and profile results in everyone in the squash world - and a few noticeable faces from tennis and rugby - pulling together to make the whole pie bigger (and therefore their share of it too). This will all be taken as a given by anyone involved in squash - or a similar sport - but it's a breath of fresh air as a relative outsider, seeing back pages filled with astronomical wages and transfer fees and scandal of racism and biting.

That's not to say there's no controversy or banter - as shown by the on-court exchanges in what is a very difficult game to officiate, the tense long-running rivalry between Nick Matthew and James Willstrop or the anger of 90s great Jonathon Power. But it's (Power perhaps excepted) always underpinned by a healthy respect for the game and its players.

If there is a desire for more down-to-earth sport, let's hope squash can, with the football league finished for another couple of months, temporarily woo some of football's fanbase when the British Open gets under way today, at Hull City's KC Stadium. And that - because the injustice of its exclusion merits constant repetition - this translates into success in the sport's Olympic bid.