Killing the Fun in Football

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As the FA continues to tighten their rules in the game of football – both on and off the pitch – it seems they are determined to kill off some of the fun in the beautiful game. Club mascots are so dormant these days that in most cases they might as well not bother showing up. Being a Hull fan I used to go to Boothferry Park and see football from the very bottom of the football league, and a lot of it was not pretty. Long hoof up the field was a regular tactic back in the old Division 3, not just for Hull but for most of their opponents. I didn’t go to the games because of the quality of football, but for the love of the club and a desire to see them climb the division and through the ranks of the football league. The lack of quality at times had to be compensated by other forms of entertainment, one of which was our club mascot ‘Roary’ the tiger. On one occasion he sneaked up on the opposition mascot before kick-off, and with his opposition number’s back turned away, proceeded to jump on him, ‘punching’ him in the head and dragging him to the ground. The seeming spontaneity of his action had the crowd laughing and cheering, with big grins echoed on the faces around Boothferry Park. These sort of antics were all good natured and never done to offend or hurt anybody, but simply for entertainment. Unfortunately, that individual who donned the Roary outfit was sacked, after too many ‘controversial’ events. On one such occasion, he reportedly ran the full length of the away fans’ stand, flicking a ‘V’ and middle finger alternately to some disgruntled travelling supporters, to signal City going 2-1 ahead. The next person to fill his shoes had a distinctly dull personality and one might assume they had been told not to cause any offence; just throw sweets to the kids and don’t do anything people aren’t expecting.

Most recently, Preston North End’s mascot received media attention when he was escorted away from the pitch-side by stewards for apparently distracting Derby County keeper Stephen Bywater. I wouldn’t condone mascots going so far as interfering with play in any way – and perhaps ‘Deepdale Duck’ did go one step too far on this occasion – but mascots add some light-hearted entertainment for the fans and I for one don’t think this is a bad thing. At the end of the day, football is about entertainment, an enjoyable day and something to put a smile on the fans’ faces. Taking away some of the silliness from the mascots is taking away a light-hearted element to the game and one which most fans enjoy seeing. The clubs aren’t to blame for this, it’s the pressure put on them by FIFA and the FA, and the penalties given to them should their mascot push the boundaries too far.

The shirt removal ban, introduced in 2004 by FIFA, is an odd one in most football fans’ eyes. It was a non-issue that FIFA decided to make an issue. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) who determine the laws of the game, ruled “A player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour.” Quite what is “unsporting” about removing a shirt in celebration, I don’t think many people could say. Bringing in the ban, they produced some very weak reasons as to why it was necessary, one of which being that sponsors were unhappy at their name on the jersey not being seen for a few seconds. This seems quite a petty argument to put forward from the sponsors’ behalf, if that is the case (it’s not as though every player takes their shirt off; fans still have 10 other players with the same name on their shirts to look at for those few seconds). The most recent high-profile victim of this rule was Mario Balotelli, who didn’t even take off his shirt, but lifted it up to reveal another t-shirt with the slogan ‘WHY ALWAYS ME’, in the Manchester derby a week ago. The players should understand by now the removal of their shirt under any circumstance will result in a yellow card, so they should be able to resist doing it, but it seems an absurd rule from the get-go and one, which is completely unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the rule is highly unlikely to be reversed now, or at any point in the future. But if FIFA continue to bring in further rules and restrictions such as this, and their restrictions on player celebrations with fans – which essentially prevents them from coming into contact with fans – then who knows where it might end? Maybe FIFA would be better to focus their energy on issues such as goal-line technology – which most fans are crying out for – and other developments which could make a positive impact on the game, instead of bringing in more petty bureaucracy.

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  • Ben Nicholson

    The extravagant celebration rule is an odd one, I understand that it’s there to stop players inciting potentially dangerous reactions in the crowd, but it does detract from the thrill of the game. Booking a player for pulling his shirt over his head seems excessive to me.

    With the mascots though, I don’t agree with you. They’re not a hugely significant aspect of the game, but they have the audience and the power. If they act irresponsibly they could cause crowd trouble and violence, which when it happens is by far the worst aspect of football. Hooliganism has been mostly stamped out in this country, but mascots swearing at away fans thoroughly provocative and in no way helping. I don’t buy that at lower levels the quality of football is so bad that the mascots are needed to keep the crowd involved by fighting WWE style.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-English/613173842 Martin English

      Mascots used to be quite a significant aspect of the off-field entertainment, but are less so now. I agree with youm, they shouldn’t be allowed to incite crowd violence and I don’t condone that. However, they are much more restricted now and many club mascots add very little entertainment value to the match, which I think is a shame. It’s not a major point, and neither is the shirt situation really. But the point I’m trying to make is that all these little elements of entertainment all add to the excitement and fun of the game and I think it a shame to take this away. The quality of football isn’t usually excessively bad, but you do get some very drab games. Unlike the Premier League, with nice passing football, there are more teams in the lower divisions that play long ball tactics week in, week out. I’ve been to hundreds of lower league games and think that I can fairly judge the overall quality of football at these levels. When you say ‘I don’t buy it’, I’m just curious as to how many lower league games you’ve seen?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-English/613173842 Martin English

    They’re not a vital role in the game, no. But mascots and other off-field entertainment all add to an enjoyable day out. Watching the game on TV, no, it doesn’t make any difference whether the mascot is there or not because the cameras rarely show them. But when watching the live games they do add a light-heartedness around the ground. When you say ‘I don’t buy…’ may I ask how many lower league games you have been to? I’ve been to hundreds of lower leagues games, not that I’m bragging, but I would say I have seen enough football from Leagues 1, 2 (and even the conference) to have a good understanding of the quality of football at these levels. It’s not always that bad, but it is generally more direct, route 1 football than, say, the Premier League and generally more sloppy.

    • Ben Nicholson

      It’s more sloppy so to keep the crowd entertained mascots need to flip the away fans off? A couple of weeks ago there was a pretty serious fight at a Lancaster City vs Halifax Town match which caused the game to be halted for 20 minutes. It wasn’t caused by a mascot but it shows that football crowds still have the potential to be riled up and become violent. I know that in some respects the nanny state seems silly, but stamping out irresponsible mascots isn’t silly, it’s common sense.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-English/613173842 Martin English

        Violence at football matches is nothing to do with mascots though. I agree with you that a mascot shouldn’t flip a middle finger at any fans. But the mascots aren’t the catalyst for violence. I’ve seen violence at a few games, once or twice some pretty ugly scenes, and it is something that you don’t wish to see. But it is nearly always the result of a build of tension between two sets of fans. It is two sets of fans that rile each other up, not mascots. Police and stewards are sometimes at fault for it as well; the worst violence I’ve seen at a game being a result of the most horrendous decision made by police and stewards.