I’m worried about the World Cup. I’m worried about the use of the Video Assistant Referees. I’m worried about England fans embarrassing themselves by chanting about global conflicts. I’m even worried about Jordan Pickford packing enough sun cream if England make it to Qatar 2022 and I’m worried about Harry Kane’s daughter if he’s in the hunt for the golden boot again next season.
I think I am most concerned about listening to the American narrator of Juventus’ Netflix series First Team as he tries to explain the concept of away goals or how referee Michael Oliver does have a “dustbin for a heart”. In the opening three episodes of the of the docu-series, the camera crew follow Gianluigi Buffon as he states that winning the Champions League would be “the accomplishment of my dream” and interview the club president Andrea Agnelli and former player Alessandro Del Piero who both share the same remit of European glory. It makes for reasonable viewing – Buffon sounds like an Italian Sean Connery and there’s something about watching the sunlight dance off the water from the sprinklers at their pristine training facilities, which is quite hypnotic.
It is certainly more palatable than even the mere thumbnail from the now infamous ArsenalFanTV YouTube channel, with the presenter Robbie Lyle looking on as DT froths at the mouth, explaining that he is allowed to have his own opinions at the same time as telling someone who disagrees with him to “shut the fuck up”. It makes for amusing viewing for fans of rival clubs as the “Wenger Out” debate is contested by Claude, a man who always looks like he’s just got off a horrible long-haul flight and staunch Wenger defendant, and Ty, fully kitted out in Arsenal memorabilia so that even the Gunnersaurus would say “that’s a bit silly”. They are set against each other in an environment where reasoning takes a back seat and pantomime phrases and hot takes have centre stage.
Both Juventus: First Team and ArsenalFanTV represent a shift towards the concept of “constructed reality” in football. It’s a weird marriage between fiction and real life that has grown in popularity – glossy hair, pouting lips and sideways glances that have made people from Essex and Chelsea gain celebrity status. Their storylines are tailored for them – repackaged mundanities given the prop of a fancy cocktail or a salacious text.
For football and the channels it is shown through, the storyline should not need to feel scripted or forced. That unpredictability of the sport is what underpins so much enjoyment. Now that interest and insight into clubs is being manipulated and monetised it is a growing concern that popular channels and fans will turn to their own methods of gaining attention and move away from the genuine story that each match provides. It is right to praise accessibility for fans, but when the camera lens distracts from the real stories, then it is natural to worry about the direction football is taking.