'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
The Decline And Fall Of Footie
A visit to a recent non-league football match reveals just how low it goes.
You'd think that if you could get away from the Barclaycard Premiership and the Coca-Cola Championship just for a second, if you could persuade yourself over to one of the lower league clashes despite having no history of support for the clubs involved, then perhaps your disillusionment with your beloved, yet increasingly commercialised, game of football might be assuaged with a touch o' the real stuff.
And so it was that one of SQUALL's editors found himself at Egan Avenue, home to Hereford United, one Friday evening in May.
The Bulls, as they are nicknamed, were playing Stevenage in the semi-final of the Conference league play-offs and the buzz about town was so great the management decided to open a disused part of the ground in order to squeeze in another few hundred. I bought the last ticket.
It is possible that Egan Av was once a model of a stadium but I think it fair to say that its golden era must have been circa 1920. These days the £12 entry fee seemed a little steep for access to a collection of large decaying cowsheds.
Nevertheless, this is what non-league football is all about. Slightly uneven pitches, precarious scaffolding structures, the smell of clods and sods and, of course, proper stand up terraces. So I shelled out the twelve notes and got excited at the prospect of the game ahead.
With an hour to kick off I went in pursuit of the stuff that makes Herefordshire famous: cider. The proper stuff that it is, not the artificially sweetened corporate phoneys like Strongbow and Blackthorn. So I walked into the pub right next to the stadium looking for a pint of the local ferment.
In order to understand what happened next you have to visualise what I'm wearing. All the way up to my neck its the usual fair. But above that I stick out a little. Not much but a little. A pair of earrings and a bandana. Within 20 seconds of me walking into the Oxford Arms, 30-40 blokes are chanting: 'Gypo Gypo Gypo', followed by 'Where's yer caravan?' sung to the tune of 'Where's yer mama gone?'.
Three things struck me about the situation.
The first was that they all knew instantly which songs to sing suggesting their alcohol fuelled racism was a regular pastime.
The second was: how many gypsys outside of Hollywood movies do you know who actually wear a bandana and earrings?
And thirdly the bar didn’t stock any local cider... just the usual corporate pints available everywhere - so there was... er - no point in hanging around. I was outta there.
On the way into the ground I bought what must rank as the worst football programme ever. Costing £3 (the same price as high gloss premiership programmes) it offered just three small pictures of footie wedged between pages and pages of advertising. One of the few pieces of genuine information it contained revealed - to my dismay - that the evening's matchball was sponsored by Herefordshire Conservatives. The evening took a further turn for the worse when Hereford United ran out onto the pitch in shirts boasting large Sun Valley Foods logo's on their front. Sun Valley Foods are the biggest supplier of crap eggs and ill chickens to the McDonald's Corporation. Regular readers of SQUALL willl be aware how the McLibel trial exposed Sun Valley's dreadful record of animal cruelty.
The quality of the football was dreadful too but a crowd who hurls abuse and monkey chants at black players on both sides deserves no better. Living in Lewisham, one of London's most multi-cultural boroughs, I had lulled into a false sense that racism was very much on the wane in Britain. But a visit to towns like Hereford prove its pernicious nastiness is alive and ill. The guy behind me shouting BNP slogans was only drowned out when other Hereford United fans in the shed behind him began singing 'We hate cockneys and we hate cockneys. We are the cockney haters'. No one seemed to appreciate the irony of the fact that in the next stand along there was a huge black and white flag which said Hereford United London Supporters Club on it. There were no black faces in the crowd though.
If you've been brought up thoroughly enjoying a sport it's a hard loyalty to give up. Which is why footie fans like me are fodder.
Twelve thousand Hereford United fans traipsed out of Egan Avenue that night disappointed with their team's 2-0 defeat. My disappointment, however, was far more profound. I had intended to keep up support for non-league Hereford United as an antidote to the thorough corporatisation of football which has taken place in the big leagues. But my one and last experience of Egan Avenue showed me just how low the malaise goes. I was ripped off AND I had to mingle in a swill of bile spitting rednecks. With free entry to all their matches, its Lewisham FC for me next season me thinks. Only they can save footie for me now.
FOOTBALL RECLAIMED - AFC Wimbledon's first game - 21-Aug-2002