The New Yorker, Yo La Tengo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy

A story in The New Yorker about the English football league is one of those exciting but slightly anxiety-provoking things where two things you love are brought together. It's great and everything but it's almost too much, and you feel a bit left out, like at a party where all your friends from different parts of your life meet each other. For you it would be a bit like if Yo La Tengo sang a song about Alan Moore's "The Watchman" comic. Or, I suppose, if The New Yorker did a story on Alan Moore's "The Watchman" comic. Or if The New Yorker did a story on Yo La Tengo. Anyway, you get the idea. (For some reason the story isn't online so I can't link, but it's probably a safe assumption that all 3 or so regular readers of this blog subscribe to the NYer anyway.)

So anyhoo, it's a good piece, and I certainly have no argument with those who claim that something's been lost since the league was transformed by an infusion of money in the early 90's. I enjoyed as much as the next man the privilege of paying 8 pounds to stand at QPR for 90 minutes and call the ref a wanker with little more than a cup of weak tea for sustenance. And I enjoyed it more, I'd wager, than John Cassidy -- who betrays no real love for the game itself in however many thousand words -- ever would.

But I do think it would have been worth pointing out the ways things have changed for the better, as well as for worse. The reasons why you no longer hear nearly as many racist chants at games as you did in say the mid 80's (when John Barnes was pelted with bananas, and black players routinely endured monkey noises from fans) are probably way too complicated and numerous to resolve, but the change does seem to have something to do with football getting taken over by people who had financial reasons not to tolerate that kind of thing. Cassidy makes no metion of this. He also might have included the fact that one of the results of the shift has been that people no longer, you know, die at football games. (He mentions in passing, the Hillsborough disaster -- and the requirement for all-seater stadiums it spawned -- but doesn't properly connect it to the vanished footballing way of life he's mourning. And he ignores the Heysel disaster altogether.)

Nor does he mention, sort of incredibly, the fact that the football has unarguably gotten better. Indeed, the English league has, in the last 15 years, gone from being a relative footballing backwater with a reputation for an unimaginative "long-ball" style of play into the acknowledged best league in the world, with world-class players from all corners of the globe displaying skills that 20 years ago, English fans had literally never seen. Back then, we almost never used to be able to attract top-quality foreign players to play in England (I remember what a coup it was seen to be when, in the late 80's Newcastle signed the mediocre Brazilian striker Mirandinha). Now, foreign stars line up to play here - it's been not uncommon over the last few years for Chelsea to field a team with not a single Englishman. It's pretty much been a line starting with Cantona in the early 90's, thru Bergkamp and Henry to Van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo. And whereas before, almost all of our truly world class players right up to Gazza eventually went to play in Italy or Spain, if Man United doesn't want to sell Wayne Rooney it's rich enough that it doesn't have to. (And they only sold Beckham because he fell out with Fergie. And okay, Owen going to Spain focks up my argument but he came back in a year.)

The point is the game is better now in a lot of ways that Cassidy doesn't mention. And insofar as this was a profile of Malcolm Glazer there was no need to mention them. But it was also, more interestingly, a look at what's happened to the league over the last 15 years, so in that regard, it seems like a bad omission.