Memories of an experimented football supporter
Alejandro Tadic is 93 years old. Despite the inevitable effects of a long life, he is still conscious and bright as a young lad. His memory is filled with plenty of unforgettable moments such as his childhood in Bolivia, his youth in Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires, and his more than 60 years in Colombia; a country that welcomed him and where he settled after living in different cities. Amongst all the anecdotes and adventures he stores in his memory, there is no such thing that excites him so much as talking about football; or what he calls it, good football.
Nowadays, Alejandro is a TV aficionado like any other young or aged person. Because of his age, he sometimes forgets about paying the bills, but he’ll always be punctual with his TV/cable bill. Hence, football becomes his daily key activity in his apartment in Bogotá, Colombia. For him, the Champions League is a football institution, the Copa Libertadores a devotion, and the World Cup a dream. Those are definitely tournaments that encourage him to keep watching good football on his TV.
He still gets the shivers when remembering the football he used to play at the Academy of the Stormers de Sucre (Bolivia) when he was 17 years old; a style of play very similar to the one exhibited by the Universidad Católica in Santiago de Chile -the team he supported whilst studying his career in the 1930s. It was almost the same quality of good football that captivated him during his spell in Buenos Aires when he had the opportunity to watch the pibes play in the Colegiales neighbourhood and while visiting the majestic and pompous Bombonera in the early years after it was erected.
In Colombia, good football had its best advocates in the Millonarios team of the 1950s, filled with international starts like Alfredo di Stefano due to the boycott of the Colombian League to FIFA -a period called El Dorado. Even now, on the 21st Century, he rejoices when bringing back the memories of his beloved clubs, Boca Juniors and Millonarios; and his preferred adoptive national teams: Argentina and Germany. A football with class, commitment and responsibility with the fans, as he mentions it; because when he follows them, he feel he is on the pitch, side by side with the players, and away from the TV set.
Nonetheless, Alejandro seriously believes football has deeply changed, and for the worse. He labels it as the little girls’ football, a sport that embraces now advertisement and fake supporters. He emphasises how it is now a show that has flooded our TVs to make us believe the beautiful game is indeed a luxury entertainment filled with celebrities; a mafia without any prejudice. To him, football teams in which talented players like Di Stefano, Maradona, Cruyff or Beckenbauer are long gone.
Alejandro, my grandfather, is still not sure whether his current physical condition, which keeps him away from football grounds, has kept him apart from good football. Or perhaps, there is not such good football anymore, the one born in the community and for the fans, which encourages supporters to jump onto the pitch from the terraces, and where everyone has a voice and it is heard. That good football he was fortunate to experience, the one linked to fervour and the transparent management.
My grandfather was the one who taught me what football is all about. I cannot forget his call every Thursday night to remind me to turn on the TV and watch the Bundesliga on the public broadcasting. And again, a new call on the following day to not skip the Argentinian League matches. This process would repeat itself week after week after week. Therefore, I believe that modern football has NOT evolved; it is everything but the good football my grandfather taught me. Today, I can’t be asked to watch this football on a TV, to only find out that it is just a business, whereby kids become more interested in a celebrity than in the sport.
Many supporters perceive that the transformation of football into a business is a natural condition. The new business model of football clubs has turned supporters into customers and sponsors take advantage of our loyalty to flood us with their marketing campaigns. This globalized football with the broadcasting media as its main income source is becoming harmful for supporters.
Fortunately, I am not the only one who considers that football is heading into an abyss. A new global supporter movement has been shaped to raise our voice, and it is starting to be heard. For instance, initiatives amplifying concerns on ticket pricing, reinvestment of TV money, diversity, safe standing, amongst others; have been brought up to the public agenda. At the same time, an emergent market like Colombia, which lacks of a clear institutional framework, has added new mobilisations to the agenda, such as #NoMasPostobon, #AsambleaYa, #ExigimosFutbolParaTodos or #AmericaParaElPueblo, which have strengthened the impact of the supporter movement.
In Europe, supporter groups have decided to promote campaigns, mobilise and request something very basic to club directors and politicians: Football is not a business like any other; supporters must be respected. Thanks to the reach of social media and new technologies, we are constantly informed on how the identity and heritage of supporters is frequently broken. Cases related to changing club colors, badges or club names are surprisingly happening now in the 21st Century. A tradition also being disrupted when club owners and directors take clubs into administration due to bad management practices. Furthermore, the transformation of clubs into transnational corporations that have rapidly forgotten about their own values and identity due to private interests, has negatively affected the relationship with fans.
In that sense, it can be stated that football as an industry is at its peak, but culturally it is at its lowest levels. The beautiful game must stop being a transactional good, managed as any ordinary asset or corporation that can be put into debt without any restrictions, change its name, ownership or shareholders only by caprice. Football must go back to its roots and supporters should recover their relevance.
It is a big challenge, and what matters most today is to create awareness on what is happening. What we have to aim tomorrow is to give back to our children the beautiful game that we unfortunately allowed to shift into a luxury entertainment. Hopefully there it is still a chance to recover the good football Alejandro experienced and that he is still yearning in front of the TV. It will be never too late.
Fans Will Raise Their Voice!