Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Times they are a changing

I have got tickets for the game. I contacted Watford FC at the beginning of the week and spoke to a very helpful lady in the ticket office and I was able to buy over the phone. What's more, they arrived this evening. So it's all systems go for Saturday.

I must thank all the Watford and Wolves fans who have kindly contacted me with offers of help to get me a ticket should I fail by the usual means. This from complete strangers. I must also thank the Wolves press officer (Paul B) who also offered to help. I am genuinely grateful for everyone's support; you all know who you are.

So, I have the tickets. I am now on "the database" at Watford FC. I am now the proud owner of fan identification number. I was able to pay over the phone with a (well used) piece of plastic.

This is all a far cry from how it used to be when I was lad growing up watching football. To turn up at the turnstile with a 50p coin was usually all it took. Sometimes a jump over a poorly maintained fence would do the trick. Nowadays it isn't quite so simple. Fan id numbers, membership schemes, automatic turnstiles, hologram embossed and security coded tickets. All-seater stadiums. Carefully controlled access into and inside grounds. Health & Safety. No smoking. No drinks in the stands. £5 for a prawn sandwich.

Times certainly are a changing. In fact, times have already changed.

This puts me in mind of a story I read a couple of weeks ago. It relates to a different sport (cricket) but the message is still the same.

The story was about a retired clergyman who goes by the name of Dennis Hibbert. Mr. Hibbert was a very keen cricketer and he was an active member of his local cricket club near Nottingham. Mr. Hibbert has, in early January of this year, had a ban lifted, a ban that saw him excluded from going onto the premises of his cricket club. The thing is, this ban was handed to Mr. Hibbert seventy years ago. Seventy years of exclusion. It must have been something pretty serious, way back in 1938, that led to an almost life-time ban? His crime? He called a fellow player "a big fat fool".

In this day and age, if a participant in any sport - cricket, rugby and least of all football - questioned a fellow player's body size or mental acumen in such a turn of phrase, barely an eyelid would be batted.

Times certainly have changed, and watch any football game nowadays and it is plain for all to see. Long gone are the halcyon days of players respecting players, fans respecting fans, referee's getting the respect they deserve. When did it all start to change? When did that respect disappear from the game? When did players start to verbally abuse referees, fans start to fight? This erosion of respect started at some point in our history. It then grew into disrespect which, way down the line, manifested itself into hooliganism. Years of festering disrespect somehow evolved into street battles between opposing supporters. Football grounds became grounds of war. Train stations and motorway services became no-go zones. Hooligan firms were formed. And then Heysel happened. This tragic event was swiftly followed by the (non-hooligan related) Bradford City fire and the awful scenes that unfolded at Hillsborough.

And out of those dark years the Government had no choice but to take radical action. And this is where we find ourselves today. All-seater stadiums. Membership schemes. Controlled segregation.

And databases with fan identification numbers.

Maybe it all started to change when Mr. Hibbert called his team mate a "big fat fool"? But that is an awfully heavy burden to lay on one man's shoulders, and totally unjustified. So I won't even go there.

Now, where did I put those tickets...?

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