The saturation of football in every aspect of media seems relentless and only likely to increase. Resident hipster Dan McGowan wonders whether a conscious choice of quality over quantity now has to be made when it comes to football consumption
“Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?” – Rosalind, As You Like It
It is a perennially frustrating aspect of human nature that we struggle to appreciate that which is before us without considering quantity and frequency. Our enjoyment of something is relative to how much and how often we have experienced it in the past, as well as how much choice we have in the present. In an era of social media, 900-channel satellite television, and relentless playback features, this can only be exacerbated. If anything has suffered from this malaise of excess, it is football.
Sunday 21st January
Breathtaking. Utterly breathtaking. I am enraptured, spellbound, captivated. Once again, I have watched Leo Messi – quite probably the greatest footballer of all time, so far as this kind of claim is valid – turn in a performance of his trademark super-humanity. It’s not just the two goals and two assists in a 5-0 dismantling of Real Betis. It’s the flourishes; the grace and balance; the baffling consistency – not simply year after year – but match after match, minute after minute. There is that real sense that, when he is in possession, absolutely anything can happen. Watching Messi control the ball is like feeling a plane touch down; a transition occurs where, just for a second, anything feels possible and it’s just a little bit frightening. Watching him off the ball is even more tense, like watching the opening overhead shots in The Shining – you just have that unnerving feeling that something is about to happen.
I could go on. Yeah, Messi is really good. I know, we all know. But my question for you is this:
Were you watching?
Because despite the tension, grace, and beauty of Messi’s play, it has occurred to me in conversation that people don’t watch him very often. But why not?
This have been puzzling me ever since.
I think I understand why. And it’s not just Messi, or Spanish football. The sport is everywhere; in the main a result of social media and satellite television. This is a product of our culture of condensed content. We have an unprecedented amount of choice, and I think that it burns people out – or at least, if not that, it desensitises them to what they are watching. If this wasn’t the case, wouldn’t everyone be watching Messi every week?
It’s comparative to if the moon landing happened every week for 12 years; sure, it’s impressive the first few times, and it’s good to remind yourself of it occasionally, but it happens all the time. It’s always there. So what?
I don’t absolve myself of this either; I don’t watch Messi every week either. Some weekends I don’t watch a game at all. To me a couple of years ago, that’d be a ridiculous thought, but I feel like the omnipresent influences of Twitter and 24-hour channels actually sicken my enjoyment of football by the time the weekend rolls around.
Choice is a funny thing. Don’t get me wrong, it can be great. Variety is the spice of life and all that. But the downside of being able to flick between 11 football channels, or countless YouTube and Twitter feeds, means that football is an all-encompassing presence.
I can only speak for myself but I’m starting to feel it’s too much. I used to love the choice. Being able to flick between a Bundesliga match, a Serie A game, a Scottish tie, and a La Liga encounter all on one Sunday afternoon sounds great. And sometimes it is. But that’s the operative term: sometimes.
We live in a culture in which we are expected to consume constantly, be it social media, television, shopping goods. Thus, we are conditioned to dedicating all of our spare time to scrolling and scanning and browsing; just take a look around the next time you make a rush-hour train journey. This culture, coupled with technological advancement, has resulted in a football culture which never ends, never rests, and never yields. It’s a fact of capitalism: everything wants to expand, grow, and diversify. But how does this affect our enjoyment?
The comparison I’d make is to the way we consume music in the internet age. With Spotify you have access to millions of songs right at the tip of your fingers. This has its advantages; convenience and access to more artists. But I find the more available something is, the more it is devalued. Much like the bottomless Twitter feed of football accounts and the never-ending loop of the Sky Sports News scroller, the ability to consume feels never-ending.
I wonder if this devalues what we are watching or listening to. Lionel Messi is doing incredible things with a football at least once a week, so why else wouldn’t people watch? Because they take him for granted. And, one day, there’s going to be no Messi and I worry that we’ll regret not choosing him because we feel like we see him all the time anyway, on Twitter and on 30-second Sky Sports News clips.
My personal solution to this – and to other feelings of overbearing digital malaise – has been to detach myself from social media a bit, and to not choose the likes of Sky Sports News as my default background noise. Social media can be a great tool but I’ve chosen to avoid the middle man and go straight to the websites I enjoy. That’s just my own solution to an issue I’ve found. I feel like I’m already enjoying sitting through a full 90 minutes more because I’ve not had 25-second highlight clips automatically pumped into my eyes, and rolling headlines zipping through my mind. It’s now becoming just enough of a good thing.