Monday, 18 January 2016

Jeff Stelling Isn't A Football Supporter

As part of my ongoing book series, chronicling the 92 clubs of the English professional leagues* I found myself at the West Brom vs. Bristol City FA Cup tie on the 9th January, which finished 2-2 with a last minute equaliser for the home side. A great cup tie, something that would made a good watch for any neutral. Before the start of the match however, I was browsing Twitter and those who I follow were moaning about Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling. It wasn’t long before I found out that Stelling had made a derogatory remark about Wigan supporters for saying that they preferred the FA Cup win in 2013 to a place in the Premier League. “Their next away game is at Crewe” sings ringleader Stelling, as his panel of monkeys guffawed at the remark, pointing out our fall from grace; not playing the Premier League's big guns each week.

Firstly – we’ve got to look at the bigger picture here. Stelling is very much a cheerleader for Sky television. A company who is constantly telling us that the Premier League (which they extensively cover) is the ‘best league in the world’. The FA Cup, which isn’t covered by Sky, is shunned away and only covered by Sky as an afterthought – so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Stelling’s agenda is to make the Premier League look more attractive than it actually is. They’re basically a magazine airbrushing an old, knackered model whose only positive is that they've got a few bob to spend on trying to garner a good reputation.

The thing is though Jeff, the Premier League isn’t the best league in the world. And going to Crewe – is a far better away trip for Wigan Athletic in every aspect than one to a Manchester United or an Arsenal. If you were a proper football supporter, then you’ll understand that. Your remit is to promote your employer's product to people who don't go to football matches, not to tell us how supporting a club who finishes 17th in the league is better than supporting a club who have won a trophy. The oldest trophy in association football. The cost is a huge factor - a ticket for Manchester United and Arsenal will cost £50+ for Crewe – it's £20. We aren't treated like cattle to be milked when we turn up to a town or city with our money; these places actually try to make your day enjoyable for your money. Just to underline what I'm saying, just days after tickets for the match went on sale we’ve sold our allocation and at the time of writing, have received even more tickets, which will mean we’ll be taking 2,000+ to Crewe – something which happened on rare occasions in the Premier League. It’s great when you go to the grounds of the country's biggest clubs for the first time, I’ll admit, but once the novelty has worn off and you have to go back, time and time again, you see it for the extortionate scam that following football can truly be. It’s interesting if you take into account that Stelling professes to support League Two’s Hartlepool United – but if he indeed does hold the attitude we’ve discussed, I doubt that he truly is a supporter.

At the West Brom match and with his side 2-1 down and seemingly on their way out of the competition to Championship opposition, a bloke near me (and I make no apology for the language, as it’s exactly what he said) - imagine this in a black country accent, like Noddy Holder or summat - bellows “47 years of age and I’ve never seen us in a bastard cup final...useless wankers” – I wonder what his opinion will be on sacrificing an FA Cup win for relegation? Will he take a year or two in the Championship for an FA Cup win? Course he would. The fact we got relegated from the Premier League had very little to do with the FA Cup (we had rotated our side even for the 6th Round at Everton) but more to do with injuries and making mistakes against a Swansea reserve side in a crucial league match a few days before the cup final. Our relegation from The Championship had nothing to do with the FA Cup either – more to do with bad decisions in hiring players and staff. But Sky, in the face of real competition from the likes of BT Sport, are more desperate than ever to push their products, so any decent opinion from their employees is muffled as the 'Premier League is the best league in the world' jingle is played over and over again, like an annoying ice cream van. With Stelling as the vendor. Don't fall into the trap of believing these people know about football - they're just on to push a dishonest agenda.

I suppose we’re lucky as Latics supporters to be in the strongest position we've been for quite a while now (ridiculous as that sounds seeing as we’re currently 5th in League One) because apart from having more local away trips at decent prices, we have a squad of young, hungry players who care about the club, want to help it to succeed and are ran and managed by young, hungry people who are Wigan Athletic Supporters. And yes – I do include Scotsman Gary Caldwell in that. Why WOULDN’T anyone with a passing interest in Wigan Athletic not be attracted by that? This is something we rarely had in the Premier League, many supporters even didn’t bother going because of the affordably and even perceived bias from the powers-that-be towards the bigger clubs, but we feel the club is ours again, we feel more attached, in what is a more competitive league. We even have two Wiganers in the squad for goodness sake! Yes, of course I want my club to be back in the Premier League again, as it constitutes long-term success and the financial implications alone would secure the future of the club for years to come, but it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the be-all-and-end-all for clubs and supporters.

But you don’t get it, do you Jeff? Because you’re not a football supporter.

*See, even I have an agenda. But at least I’m honest about it. Buy my book, it’s great.

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