Football Ain't What It Used To Be...by Tom Holmes

He may have missed a couple of podcasts, basking in the sun but Gaffer Tom Holmes didn't waste all that time by the pool. He reflects on why he might be failing at FPL and asks whether we will ever top 1996. He also throws in a trademark Holmes anecdote for the ages.

As listeners of the podcast will know; I’m not the most knowledgable of The Gaffer Tapes hosts. No, come on, stop trying to disagree with me, it has to be said. Don’t get me wrong, in the 18 months or so that we’ve been recording our Fantasy Football Podcast, I’ve got a lot better, but as a whole, my general football knowledge is occasionally lacking somewhat.

The strange thing is, as a kid I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about the soccering-balls.

Not only was I never without a football at my feet; before school, during break-time, after school kicking one around my front-room or on my own in the garden, I would also tape Match of the Day and re-watch it several times a week. Another of my obsessions was the hallowed Football Sticker Book. Yes, I collected the stickers, but those books were so much more to me. I would sit there for hours reading and memorising the stats at the bottom of the pages, looking up how many goals and assists certain players would get compared to the amount of games they had played… I-knew-EVERYTHING. Seriously, it was mental.

                            Tom had every single one.....and even referred to himself as Merlin.

                            Tom had every single one.....and even referred to himself as Merlin.

So, add that particular little obsession to the fact that I mentioned in the previous sentence that I played football on my own in my garden a lot, and granted; I do sound like I was a weird kid. Well, yes, I suppose I was. But nowadays, obviously I’m an absolute, 100%, cast-iron, bonafide lad (more like BONERfied lad, am I right, guys?!). 

I started wondering why it was that I had lost my thirst for football related knowledge and after LITERALLY minutes of contemplation, I have come to the conclusion that I simply fell out of love with the game, a bit.

I think it started in my teens, when girls, smoking and drinking takes over your life (if you’re the bloody Mayor of Ladsville, like this guy). I still kept one eye on the game, but the eye began to wander. By the time I was drinking in pubs and had my first serious-ish girlfriend (I say ‘ish’ because, in retrospect, I found out she had cheated on me about eight-thousand times) I had started to really lose touch. This is one of many, many reasons I regret being with that particular girl, although she is responsible for one of my cracking football related anecdotes, which I will add at the very end of this blog.

I got back into football from about ’07, and for the next 6 years I went to The Emirates 5 or 6 times a season. I was back into it in a big way and knew all the terrace songs, whether they were about Ashley Cole’s extra-curricular exploits with a Nokia, or Harry Redknapp’s mum. I would even start the chants at the ground and in the pub before and after the game. Me and my mate used to go to The Gunners Pub near the ground on game-days when we didn’t even have a ticket… and I once, to my eternal shame, walked into a tattoo parlour in Slough, at the age of about twenty-one, completely carted, and asked them to give me a tattoo of an Arsenal Badge on my arm. Luckily for me, they acknowledged my drunkenness and asked me to go back the next day, to which I obviously didn’t… I was too busy with my usual hangover ritual of laying down and having my mum brush my hair for me whilst we watch The Wind in the Willows on VHS.

            No, honest! He was a total lad! All the lads were watching Wind In The Willows!

            No, honest! He was a total lad! All the lads were watching Wind In The Willows!

But, in the last couple of years I’ve let it slip again as my life has become busier. Sod’s Law that the time when I do need to have a decent football knowledge - i.e. the time when I am co-shoting the UK’s biggest Fantasy Football Podcast - has come during a period of time where I am definitely watching a lot less football. My pathetic showing in the weekly quizzes and subsequent photographic evidence of me in a Sp*rs shirt are a colossal testament to this.

However, as well as a simple lack of time to watch as much football as I would like, I realised that perhaps there is another factor as to why my general interest may have wained a little, and it’s this: Footballers just aren’t as likeable as they used to be.

Find me a football fan who is over the age of twenty who doesn’t agree with that statement and I’ll add a photograph of me in the Tottenham Away-Kit to the one Craig keeps next to his bed at night… alright, maybe not, just in case.

                                                            Look at his little face!

                                                            Look at his little face!

Euro ’96 was the absolute peak of my fandom. I must have watched every single televised game and cried like a baby (I was 10) when Gareth Southgate missed his penalty, in the infamous shootout with Ze Germans. In ’96 we had some of the greatest footballers - and, just as importantly characters - of our generation. If you compare this to the England Squad of Euro 2012, you will see what I mean.

In the glorious English summer of ’96, the team that steered us to the semi-finals of Euro ’96, beating Scotland 2-0, hammering the Dutch 4-1 and defeating Spain on penalties in the quarter-final, consisted of Paul Ince, Alan Shearer, David Seaman and Paul Gascoigne. Compare that with four “randomly" chosen names from the Euro 2012 squad and you’ll see a stark contrast, when I - again, completely at random - throw up John Terry, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young. Do I need to go on?

I know that people of my dad’s generation could probably still look back at the squad of ’96 and say that even then, football was on a steep decline from the glory days of Chopper Harris and players of his ilk, but even in the 16 years between the two aforementioned tournaments the likeabilty and general ease at which you can get behind them as a team has dropped considerably. I am an extremely nostalgic person, and as I write this, I feel a genuine pang of sadness that - for me at least - a golden-age of football has come to an end. Maybe I’ll have a little kick about on my own in the garden to cheer me up… fuck, I don’t even have a garden nowadays :-(

 

Here’s that anecdote I promised you, to end on a slightly happier, albeit marginally xenophobic note:

 


 I was seeing this girl for a while and she was criminally stupid, I mean, she was the thickest person I have ever met, it was ridiculous…and quite hilarious.

One time, I was sitting on the sofa with her watching England playing football (obviously I use the words ‘playing’ and ‘football’ extremely loosely when referring to the England national team). I think it was about 2003, as David Beckham had just left Manchester United and signed for Real Madrid.

I noticed that she was looking at the television in bewilderment, so I asked (with a due amount of dread) what was confusing her – knowing from experience that it may have been easier to ask her what wasn’t confusing her – to which she replied “Well, now that David Beckham plays for Real Madrid, shouldn’t he play for Italy and not England?”

“I’ll stop you there” I said, “firstly, Madrid is in Spain, not Italy… and secondly David Beckham is English, therefore he plays for England”.

Well that only aided to confuse her even further, and she frowned once again at the television as the camera panned along the England players while they lip-synced to the national anthem, before she said slowly “So… all the England players have to be English?”

“Yes”, I confirmed happily, thinking that she had finally worked it out.

“So how come there are black players playing then?”