So, straight off the bat, I don't follow, and have never followed a top flight team. As I kid I dabbled with saying I supported the team at the top (it was Liverpool back then, I even had a kit). But I lived 300 miles away and had little chance of ever watching them live, so I moved to following my local team. Over the years that interest waned and other things took over in life, so I settled on watching footie on TV when I could. So I really don't have a vested interest in watching professional football.
But I did watch it. I watched it all I could. I had Sky and BT subs, and watching Match of the Day was a semi-religious requirement. I even watched Match of the Day 2. And Soccer AM. And Football Focus. And the terrible EFL shows on Five, or Quest, or Dave, or whichever channel they ended up on as Sky gradually couldn't be bothered to bid for the highlights.
I loved my fix, and when my Manchester United supporting relatives were taking in a game I'd jump at the chance to tag along if seats were bookable. I'd talk over the latest results with my friends; West Ham fans, Spurs fans, Newcastle fans. I'd give my opinions on formations, personnel, management decisions, and VAR. I'd discuss refereeing incidents, transfers, England squads, Champions League, and wade in on the Messi vs Ronaldo debate (Messi is the best by the way, don't @ me).
I've gone from a dedicated neutral interest in the Premier League and international matches, and to a lesser extent EFL, to nothing. That's right, nothing. As I sit and write this, I have no idea who is top of the Premier League. Is it Liverpool still? I caught the England squad announcement this week as someone on my Twitter retweeted it. But I doubt I'll watch the friendlies. Honestly, I have no clue about the top flight anymore. I don't read newspapers, look at results, follow anything on YouTube or Twitter. I might occasionally catch a top flight news piece if I am watching the news, or flicking through channels, or someone retweets something.
But other than that, I have gone cold turkey. And I want to explain why.
There are numerous reasons. The change happened pretty much overnight I'd say. In March last year. And we all remember what happened last March right?
When the pandemic hit, I lost all my income. Being newly self-employed I was not eligible for Government support. So the first thing that had to go was unrequired subscriptions. Sky Sports went (BT Sport had gone months previously - why pay £30 a month for football when you can watch the goals repeated on their Twitter feed 30 seconds after they go in?!). As we all did, I struggled in those early weeks. I'd made plans for the return of non-league, and with it my income, but it didn't happen. I actually thought the pandemic would be over in a few weeks. How wrong we were.
But low and behold, the Premier League started again. It was June I think? By then I had spent time re-evaluating my football intake. Non-league levels had been canned, nulled and voided. Teams left without deserved promotions. Players left without the spoils of their battles and cast aside, while the FA and the Premier League just had to finish didn't it? Billions thrown at it. Money that could and should have helped the lower levels. Many clubs have gone to the wall. Ignored in the same way the Government ignored those pesky self-employed people who dared to start their business after April 2019.
In non-league I had found a home for my business and my interest was at step 2 and below - the semi-pro levels. So I decided - part one of my turkey going cold if you will - I'd focus on keeping up to date with the non-league game and give back to the levels of football that had helped me when when business started. 16 clubs took up my services in 19-20, and almost 30 in 20-21. So why spend time on levels of football that held little interest barring a conversation piece for the pub? (which, at that time, as it is now, is a no-go anyhow). I wanted to focus on the clubs who helped me when I needed help setting up FootiePrint.
Another reason for my disillusionment with top flight football was the constant negativity which surrounds the Premier League. On and off the pitch, there's so much, it honestly hurts the head when you hear it. And VAR is terrible for causing this. It has caused more controversy than it was brought in to stop. It's given officials a get-out clause and a means of excusing their poor decisions. And that in turn leads to everyone having a go every chance they get.
These arguments (and they are that more than discussions at times) are regularly had by pundits on shows like MOTD and Soccer Saturday. And it bores me senseless. People like Paul Merson who, bless him, does his best while struggling to speak properly most of the time. Pundits who should be neutral but will always defend 'their' clubs. Jenas, Carragher, Shearer, Souness. You could write their scripts ahead of matches, with variable lines depending on outcomes of games. The only co-comm or pundit I've ever enjoyed listening to is Gary Neville, but even he can't comment on a Man Utd game without a decidedly rose-tinted view of proceedings.
When I watched MOTM last, probably 18 months ago now, I used the delightful pause function of my TV to pause the show for 10-15 mins at the start. That way I could forward through the 'analysis' after each match and watch the actual highlights. All the while longing for the days of Des announcing what game was on next, showing the game highlights, then showing the next one. No opinionated ex-players saying 4-4-2 is better for this or that team than 4-5-1, or explaining that if Harry Kane had shot across the keeper rather than straight at him he might have scored. No sh*t, Sherlock.
And then there's the players. The 'over-paid prima donnas' tag has been used many times over many years for individuals or collective players. I used to defend footballers' wages. Demand and supply I'd say - they entertain, so could be paid accordingly like movie stars or musicians. But when it comes to footballers, all I see nowadays is entitled, greedy, spoilt brats. There are exceptions. The aforementioned Kane, when he isn't shooting straight at the keeper, seems like a grounded chap with his head on right (ridiculous baby gender reveal PR stunt aside), despite his obvious wealth and fame.
But then you have the likes of Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling et al. There's a minority, granted. But there's those few bad eggs who think a tattoo of a gun on their leg, or throwing a covid-19 rule-breaking party then jumping in your top-of-the-line Range Rover while smashed off your face, is a good example to kids who wear their names on their junior size £50 replicas. And there's those who moan when not being played while being filmed for a documentary, to the most successful manager in recent times. I'm looking at you Danny Rose. (And yes, I watched the Amazon Man City / Spurs docs - I've had nothing to do since October!)
It winds me up. A position of wealth and fame comes with responsibilities, and the more I hear of individuals seemingly thinking rules and decency doesn't apply to them, the more I get angry at their entitled attitudes.
Which brings me to me next point. Fans.
Premier League fans are a strange bunch. Most of them don't go to matches. Or live near their teams. Or were 'forced' into being a fan as a kid via a wishy-washy family tradition. Would anyone really support Spurs or Newcastle out of an individual choice? It's akin to Christening a child when it's 2 months old, before it has the chance to realise religion isn't for them. But that's great, if they are happy. A friend of mine was a Liverpool fan as a kid, but became a Man Utd fan around the mid-90s era - funny that.
My biggest gripe with top flight fans is their over-arching sense of entitlement. It's a disease. 'If my team doesn't win today, it must be the manager's fault'. Or 'That player missed a penalty. He's terrible. Replace him.' Or even the disgusting 'That player had a bad game, I'm going on social media to berate him, threaten his family, and call him racist names'. A minority on that last point for sure (and a whole other issue people other than me are much better qualified to comment on). But the first two points - constant and consistent after every game. It's ultra boring.
Social media has increased this sense of entitlement. When your team wins it's a chance to exclaim your love for them on Twitter. When your rival loses you can search for a meme that is best suited to send to that guy from your office to stick the knife in further. And then there's the YouTube channels, purporting to by made by the fans. Or the people who feel it's their right to ring TalkSport to moan about the lack of possession his team had during a tight 1-0 loss, and this or that player should be dropped because it was their fault (is it not an 11-man team game anymore?).
Some guy in an Arsenal shirt, sucking up a Saturday night takeaway in between breaths, screaming that a midfielder must be dropped because he missed a couple of key passes. These people should give their coaching qualifications at the start of their arguments, in the same way we will all have to show our vaccine cards when we go to Spain soon.
There's not a right or entitlement to spout angry opinions, just because you've bought a shirt for £80 or spend your Saturday afternoon ignoring your family to see what you can get upset about next. Fans at the top level think they are owed success, and if it doesn't come they first think about slagging off their club manager / players / owners / kit man / stewards until they get their (uneducated and unhelpful) points across. Usually to no-one in particular, except Darren Gough (who is a cricketer anyway right?!)
So, in short, these top flight entitled brats (pundits, players, fans) annoy me, to the point where I will turn off the TV or radio, block Twitter feeds who retweet their vitriol, and stay out of pub conversations. And you know what, it's been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I can get past the FOMO. I'm not bothered I didn't know Man Utd had signed Cavani until 3 months after it happened. Last week I saw Jesse Lingard score for West Ham on a Sky Sports promo during an advert in the middle of Gold Rush on Quest, and had no idea he was there. Apparently he took a break from being an Instagram influencer to find time to sign for them in January.
I'll watch the Euros in the summer, and of course I'll cheer them on and hope England do well. It'll make for some nice days in my garden with the BBQ on and some mates round. If they lose, it'll be a shame sure, but I won't be as devastated as I was in 1990 or 1996. I'm not that much of a patriot these days (I voted remain, and I would have preferred to have been born in Australia to be honest). And I follow England more as a bandwagon jumper these days. Years ago I mocked what I called the 'two-year gap England fans'. Those who bought one of the fake St George flag shirts in Primark in early June, or found some red and white face paint on Amazon just to try and fit in. But these days I'm happy being one of the vast number of people who follow the major championships, hope they do okay, and head back to my normal life the minute they get inevitably eliminated.
And my life is simpler for it. I don't waste time on areas of football I have little interest in anymore. Fair play to those who do and those who enjoy the Premier League. I hope you feel fulfilled and have a positive experience for the majority of the time. I'm pleased for you that you have a club and a purpose.
But non-league is my bag now, from an interest point of view, and from a livelihood stance. Levels of football that really matter to local people, where local fans stand with 70 others to watch a team on their doorstep. Where every £5 entry makes a big difference. And where buying a programme in print is a vital part of the match (hint, hint!)
So long-live non-league. You've turned my head, and I hope you continue to turn more and garner the focus you so richly deserve. And to the Premier League... thanks for the time we had together, but non-league is the football-shaped hole filler in my life now.