Where have the proper football men gone?
Every morning, Liverpool’s head of technical performance fires over some emails to FSG’s bosses, John W Henry and Michael Gordon. He’s a stats nerd, and he’s killing football.
Edwards is a man who doesn’t, unlike me - a proper football man - understand what is needed to succeed in British football, or in Britain at all.
I’ve spent the last few days at the Tory Party Conference, learning about how the most noble and brainiest people in this country have selflessly given themselves over to public service, when they could be making further millions. These people haven’t had it all their own way. The pressure to make sure that they do not waste their enormous trust funds and inheritances is so enormous, that people on the average wage in this country simply could not fathom how hard they work to keep going. They have to hope that the wages they earn, and non-executive directorships that they are guaranteed once they resign, will carry them through until they are able to claim their guaranteed parliamentary pensions.
It is no easy thing. And that’s why only the best in the country end up elected to lead the country, and help ordinary people like us live our lives as well as possible. They know that there is dignity in work, and no dignity in simply being given top-ups to be able to feed our families, or pay for our loved ones’ funerals. It will be a dark day when evidence is used to undermine brave people, who lead and think with their gut, like Theresa May. It will be a dark day when people use data to show that David Cameron making sure that affordable housing for rent is totally removed from the country will only concentrate capital further. But the darkest day will be when efforts to use information and research spoil the beautiful game.
And it’s already happening. Edwards is the kind of man who uses things like, ‘research,’ ‘information,’ and ‘numbers’ to try to give Liverpool the edge. Just as has been done successfully in baseball for years. No matter that this nascent discipline is still only finding its feet in a new sport, and no matter that other clubs spends fortunes using similar schemes. Things like science cloud football. Football is not a science, it’s a sport.
And that means you need several things to succeed, few of which are based in so-called technology. What we need is a return to the days when pre-season consisted of running up and down hills until you threw your kidneys up. We need a time when seven substitutes didn’t use leg warmers and sleeping bags in cold temperatures, but when there were just do of them on the side, drinking whiskey and playing snooker in the night air to warm up.
Why has this been allowed to develop? Well, for one, it is because Americans have infected the game, and probably because the European Union’s freedom of movement have also undermined the bloody-minded bulldog spirit that carried England to the World Cup in 1966, and so many near-things since then. But another reason has been the total abdication from common sense in football journalism. Journalism has been totally gutted of its greatest qualities.
No longer can we smoke at our desks in the office. We are corralled outside where he have to huddle like pariahs, no longer treated like the death-defying rockstars we really are, but painted as some wheezing, outmoded devotees to a long debunked habit. It is just one symptom, but it is damning nonetheless.
Similarly, we cannot take a bottle of gin when we cover matches. Some of these new journalists can write sober, but I ask you, isn’t sober just another word for dull? Far better that we follow on a couple of morning pints and a lunchtime in the local catching up with the latest stories with the traditional G&T gathering in the press room. No longer - no we are reduced to a half-hidden hip flask. It does the job, but the romance has left the profession.
But worse is to come. Oh, boy! Much worse is to come. These days we do all our press conferences, at the training ground or inside the match, in air-conditioned rooms. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being 10 sheets to the wind and having to try to stay awake throughout a press conference that takes place at a snoozy 26 degrees? In our day, the professionalism of the club staff meant that you’d get two strong coffees and a sharpener, and a frosty draft running across your cheeks to make sure you’d stay lucid. That ship has sailed, and it is a testament to the dedication of proper football men - behind the microphones and those asking the questions - that very few of us fall asleep at these times.
And that’s why you’re getting this blog today, on time, as accurate as ever. Because as I fired up the typewriter, sticking another ink ribbon in it in my right hand, all while smoking one Rothmans in my mouth while lighting two others with my left hand, I felt the morning brandy start to catch up with me. Did I, in my shed, decide to go back to the days of having a couple of hours’ kip on the floor before waking up and losing a battle of wills with a four pack? No. I kicked a hole in the shed wall to let a breeze whip across the pitiful but noble structure, and blasted this out before the deadline hit. Because I am a proper football man.