Wednesday, 8 November 2017

At the Champions League - with the Kardashians!

There would be no game without the fans, we are often told by football's guardians of insight. They are the most important people in the stadium. A new generation of fans is taking this truth to extremes. They are starting to think that they are the only people in the stadium.

Football from around the time
Rangers used to do well in Europe
(actually a mosaic at the Stadio Olimpico).
Last week I went to watch a Champions League group game for the first time since I saw Paul Gascoigne and Rangers humbly succumb 3-0 to the Grasshoppers of Zürich in the autumn of 1996. I had a letter printed in the Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger complaining that the club had increased ticket prices seven-fold from what they charged for Swiss League games. It failed to trigger the popular revolution that I'd hoped for. And anyway, I was part of the problem too - I'd bought two of the jacked-up stubs for the privilege of seeing another highly tipped Scottish failure.

At games back then no one except the official photographers had a camera. It was around one year later in that very same ground when, for the first time, I was sitting next to someone who took a call on their mobile phone. I was incredulous that technology was heedlessly devouring my world view. For Christ's sake, you sociopathic

No place for fascism
in football (except in Italy
 - Stadio Olimpico again)
So, fast forward 20 years to Roma v Chelsea last Tuesday in the Stadio Mussolini Olimpico. We've now come out the other side - no one talks on their phone in the stadium any more. That era's had its 15 years of inanity. "Yeah, I'm at the game, it's 1-0. Oh, you're watching it on telly? I'll wave, maybe you'll see me hur hur. You've got to go? Why? Oh, you're watching the game." Now fans are less externally focused. They are taking pictures, mainly of themselves, and reams of crowd footage. The couple in front of us are relentless archivists throughout the night, and the bloke only stops in the second half when his battery dies. 

They're nothing compared with what's to come, though. Around 15 minutes after the game has started (and long after Stephan el Shaarawy's mesh-frazzling opening goal for Roma after 38 seconds), three young women in their early to mid-20s come looking for their seats. "Look, the Kardashians have arrived," remarks Mrs QF. These perfume-counter clones try to throw out the couple in the seats in front of us, but they're in the wrong section. It takes them another five minutes of wandering up and down the steps looking baffled before they match the numbers on their tickets with the numbers on their seats. Good job, Kim!

Hardly have they settled down than they become quickly restless. Why are we here again? Not sure. Let's take some pictures so that we at least remember afterwards that we were here at all! They record images of each other - in singles, in pairs, and then all together, alternating all three phones.

Generation Kardashian in
action at Roma-Chelsea
No half-time cup of tea for these prodigious posers. Now they go down to the front to get the pitch in the background. Multiple shots. As entertainment goes, it's certainly more captivating than watching the sprinklers on the field. This trio work together a lot more efficiently than Chelsea's central midfield, and their smiles are wider than the gap between Antonio Rüdiger and César Azpilicueta for Roma's second goal. But the minute the latest series is in the can, the smile disappears quicker than Cesc Fabregas when the going gets tough - the subject dashes to the snapper to check out the quality of the picture, then shakes her head in genuine horror. OMG, I look terrible! Take it again! 

For the interval's full 15 minutes they're diligently at work, then as the teams kick-off for the second half they resume someone else's seats. When those people return, they move to three new spots. When those people return they go back to their original seats (they remembered!) and take some more pictures. Then the next time I look (because whenever the ball's out of play, I can't help myself - it's like when you drive past a 10-car pile-up and the ambulance is still on the scene) they're gone. 

Clearly these were the worst offenders, but they were by no means the only ones. A bloke gets me to take a picture of him watching the game, but with his back to the camera so that I can record his Totti replica shirt. A purely natural pose. And this at a game where you really need no distractions at all. Whatever your views on the immorality of the Champions League, the football itself is depressingly impressive. Unless you're watching Chelsea ha ha ha (though in truth they also looked very good going forward in the first half).

This doesn't cause me to froth and gesticulate like a man (running) out of time. We're all wearily resigned to the selfie-obsession of our age. I even took one of myself before the game to send to my boys' U15 team back in Frankfurt (they weren't impressed - I'd have had to be posing arm in arm with the actual Totti for that). And just like with the Grasshopper-Rangers game, I am equally complicit in all this. I forked out an entrance fee that would have made your Granddad roar out loud and tell you how many season tickets you could have bought at that price for Barnsley back in the 50s.

And in truth, Mrs QF and I had a great night. It was an excellent game, and we got to laugh our asses off. In weird ways, modern football can be brilliant too. 

The Quiet Fan was published by Unbound in autumn 2018 and is here.

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