‘The lamps are going out all over Europe,’ said British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey in August 1914, on the eve of the United Kingdom’s entry into the First World War. Over years, the most powerful nations on earth had drifted towards that conflagration. I’m not going to follow that opening with a piece on the current situation in Ukraine, though it remains a shadow over all of us.
The quote came back to me last Wednesday evening as I walked by an inky Trent to the City Ground. Against the backdrop of a November dark sky, the stadium blazed light and cooked-up a cauldron of sound as fans relished the prospect of a Carabao Cup Forest win against Spurs. And so it was to be, sandwiched between a hard-fought draw with Brentford and a vital three-point victory over Crystal Palace. That result lifted the Reds off the bottom of the league and had fist-pumping manager Cooper declaring, ‘I really, really wanted supporters to be able to go into the break with a positive result. We got that’.
What we haven’t got is another Forest fixture until Boxing day! Along with all the top leagues in Europe, the Premiership has come to a halt. An empty stadium during a season will always carry connotations of seismic threats to society, be they a world war or a pandemic. Now we can add a men’s World Cup. Football grounds around the land will sit in darkness and silence when they would normally be hosting fans warming to the season of goodwill, leading up to a crescendo of Christmas fixtures. Instead, the globe’s best players will be plying their trade in a far-off place that most of us wouldn’t be able to find on a world map.
How did this state of affairs come about? Answer: by what happened at a FIFA meeting in 2010. Sixteen of the twenty-two delegates who voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup at that declaration are now under investigation for a range of corruption charges. Which raises another question: is FIFA fit for purpose?
David Goldblatt, in ‘The Age Of Football’ says the game is the most universal cultural mode there has ever been, consumed avidly across the globe, taking place everywhere, a badge of identity, our universal entertainment. But the institution that has overseen the incredible growth of a simple game seems increasingly incapable of coping with its power and financial clout. And – as we all know – power without transparency corrupts.
Money – greed – is the driving-force of FIFA, well ahead of being responsible stewards ensuring the continued health of football. That brings us to the concept of ‘sports-washing’, something of a fashion these days as industries, institutions and nations seek to cleanse reputations and enhance their images. So many issues made Qatar a dubious choice for this most prestigious of competitions, from its stance on same-sex relationships and women’s rights to the treatment of migrant workers. (The environmental impact of the games would take up a book by itself.) All of which seemed beyond the former head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, whose only recent complaint about the tiny enclave in the Gulf (that happens to be one of the largest gas producers in the world) was that it was ‘too small a country’ to play host to the event. Talk about ‘turn a blind eye’!
No doubt, when the curtain goes up on this latest World Cup, many grumbling fans will take to their armchairs, however uncomfortable, and soak up the festival of football. Others will hold their noses and pick out a handful of games to watch, a few will hold back their love of the game to the later stages. Some will maintain a personal boycott of the competition altogether. None of this, of course, will stop the media machine, in all its forms, from providing wall-to-wall coverage as it follows this most generous of gravy trains. They don’t come bigger than a World Cup, with its endorsements, promotions, enticements (like betting) and merchandise.
If anyone is uneasy about the prostitution of football over the coming month, (and who knows quite how this Qatar cup will be played out?) they can always turn away from the global and go local. With the glare of the Premiership on hold, light can shine more brightly on the rest of the domestic clubs. I’ll be keeping an even keener eye on teams whose results I always check anyway, places I’ve lived in or Nottingham-related. Obviously, Notts County come top of the list, followed by Mansfield Town. Then there’s Norwich City, Cambridge United, Portsmouth, Kettering Town and Northampton Town. (The latter, if you didn’t know, have just won the Planet League Cup, a sustainability in football award, contested by 77 clubs).
So, is it a case of ‘lights down’ in England? No, but across the world, men’s football might come to be regarded in a dimmer light. Back at the City Ground, the break could be a welcome in disguise. As Steve Cooper says, ‘Enjoy some time away and think about what it is going to take to do well going forward. We need to get back together and work hard to make the break a productive one’. On which note, I’ll take a break too.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC the City Ground will next play host to football in January 2023.