Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

The Beautiful Game

May 11th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

This week Dave Boyle looked at co-ops in the world of professional football in an article in the Guardian. Thought it might be interesting to republish an article I wrote together with my Werder fan buddy Lars Heinemann some eight or so years ago for the Welsh socialist newspaper, Seren (sadly not longer in print).

“What’s wrong with the beautiful game

I am a football fan. I started out at the age of six as a Swindon Town Fan in the old third division At first I have a foldings tool to stand on and when I got bigger my father nailed two paint cans onto a plank of wood so I could see from the terraces. When I was a bit bigger still I used to go down to the County Ground three hours before kick off to secure myself one of the precious places on the railings at the front.

I  followed Swindon until I went to university at the age of 18. I was there in Wembley when we beat Arsenal in the League Cup Final – now famous as the formative point in Nick Hornby’s life. After a couple of years – it takes that long – I switched by loyalties to Swansea City – and followed the heady rise from the fourth division to top of the first – and then back down again. After brief – and unsatisfactory flirtations with Nottingham Forest and Manchester City – I moved to Pontypridd. It took a few years before I could switch my loyalties to rugby at the House of Pain. And then on to Bremen. Once more I had a passing curiosity in the local team – Werder – but it took a couple of years before I called myself a fan.

Why so long? If I just wanted to  see good football I would never have followed Swindon or Swansea. And I would have been down to the Weser Stadium like a shot to watch the top Bundesliga clubs in action.

Being a football fan is more than an appreciation for the aesthetics of the game or a leisure time activity. Being a fan is about identification – with the club, with the team, with the stadium and above all with the community. The community of players, of supporters and of the place where you live. Football fans are the lifeblood of football.
But something’s gone wrong. It stared in the 1980s. Ground capacities were reduced to allow the introduction of corporate boxes and posh seating. Prices have gone up and up. Football tried to change its image. It wishes to be no longer a working class game but family entertainment. TV money has meant the richer get richer whist small clubs rely on the scraps. Players wages have gone through the roof. It is hard for fans to identify any longer with player lifestyles. Football has fallen prey to the marketing experts. The big clubs have become global marketing enterprises – and the community no longer matters.

There have been some very good sociological studies of what it going on. For those interested look at the work of Taylor and of Giulianotti . Taylor talks of the commodification of the game whilst Giulianotti  identifies a new more recent phase he call hypercommodification.

What the researchers mean by this is that football is no longer a game for the fans but is a commodity to be bought and sold on the global market. Giulianotti says:

The broad trend in sports identification is away from the supporter model (with its hot traditional identification with local clubs) and toward the more detached, cool, consumer-orientated identification of the flâneur.

My translation of flaneur is poser – you know the people who like the idea of going to the match – not the real footy fan for which the  game is a matter of happiness or despair. The problem is that the flaneur will be very happy at Chelsea but certainly will never turn out to see Swindon or Swansea – or Wrexham for that matter – on a wet Tuesday night.

But our game is being taken away form us in another – and more literal – sense. the ownership of the game is changing. In the UK we never really owned the clubs. Post war capitalism sold us a con – local business people made up the (private) boards of the clubs with perhaps one seat for the supporters clubs. But at least they were local and we liked to think that the local community was in control. the picture is very different now. Clubs like Man U are stock market ventures. Football is traded like any other commodity. Other clubs like Chelsea are the play things of rich Mafiosi seeking to spirit their ill gotten loot gained from raiding the Russian peoples’ property.  The Champion’s League is increasingly a franchise of the few wealthy clubs able to afford a squad of elite galacticos.

Is there any hope? Ever the optimist, I think there is. firstly commodification hasn’t been a complete success. Look – as we all do with glee – at the mess its got Leeds into.

And in Germany Dortmund and Shalke have followed the same route and with the same results -teetering on the verge of bankruptcy as their stock market price falls and their team under-performs for yet another season. Wolfsburg is in the pocket of VW and Hertha Berlin receive massive payments from Bertelsmaan. But small clubs still can buck the trend – Werder Bremen did the double in Germany last year and it certainly wasn’t the TV moguls plan for Porto top win the Champions League or, that matter, for Greece to win the European Championship.

There are alternative forms of club ownership. Whilst some clubs like Dortmund have gone down the separate road in Germany, others, such as Werder Bremen, still preserve the traditional structure of the club being owned by its members with elected officials. For that matter even super clubs such as barcelona are owned by the members, as is the traditional model in Spain and Latin America.

In Werder’s case the club is more than just the Bundesliga team. Werder support a wide range of different sports – from handball to chess and well as over 30 football teams. And while Werder has undoubtedly gained a fair few flaneurs since its rise to success the majority of supporters are true fans.

Another side of the German game I find fascinating is the alternative league. Local football pundit Lars Heinemann explains: “The wild leagues are a child of the seventies, when members of anti nuclear, ecological or whatever groups decided they didn’t want to play in clubs any more. There were some attempts to create alternative clubs with the interesting effect that one could witness the German football association trying everything they could to avoid teams with weird names, normally involving the typical eastern block words like Dynamo, Torpedo or Locomotive, to become official clubs.

But first of all these teams played each other, and as numbers increased, they founded their own leagues at a local level. And these are still alive and kicking, the different local champions even playing out a German championship on a more or less regular basis. To give you an idea about the name thing: the multiple German champions from Bremen are called Vibrator Moscovskaja. Organisation goes as far as necessary – there are agreed football rules (passive offside almost everywhere excluded), although the teams are generally allowed to agree upon almost every change they want before the matches. Referees may be there if there is somebody wanting to take over the job and nobody objects – in case of disagreements and absence of such a person, the rules of the Bielefeld league in the Westfalen region e.g. state that ‘the team which in case of an argument first leaves the pitch, is declared loser’ – severe disagreements may be settled by the plenum of all teams. And it works. It’s a lot of fun and the quality of football sometimes is surprisingly high – perhaps due to another rule (again from the Bielefeld league): §16 Technically bad players wearing white or red shoes may be laughed at. “
Football can be saved. How? By that old working class adage of getting organised. Fans have to build their own organisations, fight against corporate ownership, take over the running of the clubs. OK – it won’t be easy. Is it important? Isn’t it just taking effort away from the things that really matter like stopping the US war crimes in Iraq. I think it is important. Cultural identity is central to working class and socialist politics. Football is one of our major outlets for cultural identity. Don’t let them take it away from us.

Thanks to Lars Heinemann for help with this article. He asked that the following biographical note be added. “Lars Heinemann lives in Bremen. Highlights of his football career were the eternal fights between Torpedo Todtenhausen and Mulo Minden and the Windlicht drinking afterwards.”

Open football

March 2nd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

It is a busy period for me and hence little time for posting. Off again tomorrow to Pontypridd, then to Manchester for ThoughtFest08, a quick trip to Swindon to see my parents and then to Warwick University and on to Loughborough for the Jisc Users and Innovations programme Benefits Realisation project.

I do have the odd hour off! Last Thursday was the UEFA cup game between Werder Bremen and Milan (in Milan) and I managed to get myself to Bremen for the game. Problem was having made it to Germany, I found the game was not being seen on German TV. Conspiracy theories for this range between anti Werder bias on part of German broadcasters, ridiculous prices being charged by Milan for media rights and a desire not to show referees bias outside Italy!

So what to do? Innovation was running high. There were French, Chinese and Romanian broadcasters covering the game wide. satellite dishes were being moved, news cards plugged into computers and receivers. sadly, the only venue that my friend Lars knew was showing the match was on the wrong side of the river, it was pouring with rain and the ferry had stopped for the night. So, in the end, we decided to take our computers ot my local pub, where there is access to an open network from a nearby student house. The landlord had already positioned himself next to a radio with locals gathered around it. Lars and me got busy on our MacBooks, surfing for open feeds. And there were a lot of feeds – both on open streams and on peer to peer networks. The problem was there were also a lot of people seeking to watch those feeds. We ended up with two jerky rebuffering feeds running some 25 seconds behind the radio commentary. But nevertheless, the computers became a central focus on attention, perched on a high bar table and angled so everyone could watch.

The result, as I am sure you will guess since i am blogging this, was 2-2, so Werder progressed on the away goals rule.

But seriously, how long can this farce of closed media rights go on. As bandwidth continues to improve, I guess by next year the feeds will be reasonably good. And with so many people in China, in Romania and all over the world prepapred to generously share their satellite streams, it is only a matter of time before the football authorities  and the broadcasters have to reconsider their strategies for trying to screw as much money as possible from ordinary football fans for trying to follow their teams. Lets campaign for Open Football!

Emotional learning and sport

March 17th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

walesflag

A friend told me last week she liked my blog but it was just too techy for her. I had never imagined this as a techy blog. So it is time to get a bit more…what I don’t know.

Anyway a quick word on sport. I like sports – well some sports anyway. I like the intensity of being a supporter, I love the crowds and the emotion, the ups and downs.

This weekend was indeed two days of ups and downs.

On Saturday I watched the final match of the 6 Nations rugby tournament. The match was between Wales and France and the winners would win the Championship. Wales won and won in style. For those readers who do not understand the meaning of rugby in Wales I quote from todays on-line edition of the Western Mail, Wales’ daily morning newspaper. “while it may have been the end of a perfect tournament for Wales, it’s the start of a new dawn for the nation.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said, “This Grand Slam will do so much for Wales as a small country because we can now all say proudly that we are the champions of Europe and champions of the Northern Hemisphere. Bring on the Southern Hemisphere..” Economists, they say, are predicting an upturn for the Welsh economy . Hm…well perhaps.

On Sunday I watched football – Werder against Wolfsburg. This should have been a stroll. But it wasn’t – we lost – and we were direly bad. From euphoria one day to despair the next.

And the point of this – yes I can tie a sports report to e-learning. How can we get such passion into learning? Do we want learners to experience such feelings of elation and despair? And how can we both develop Personal Learning Environments yet replicate the feeling of being part of the crowd?

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