8 August 2012

Never mind the Olympics, here’s the Blue Square Bet Premier

In the midst of "Team GB" gold rush fever, we're all off to watch non-league football.

Olympic London is a blur of gold and Boris and Americans and Khaki slacked volunteers. The tubes are quiet, the streets are clean, the beer’s expensive and everyone seems, well, sort of happy.

But like all victims of Stockholm syndrome, our new freedom from failure forged in the Olympic Park will never surpass the bond we have developed over many torturous years with our kidnapper. That’s right folks it’s the return of Vauxhall Conference football to Kenilworth Road.

To say I am excited would be a lie. But at this stage in our story, anything more animated than a cold dead-eyed handing over of cash at the turnstiles on Saturday would be a minor miracle. But hand over the cash we will, and in doing so we embark together on another year of dizzying highs, terrifying lows and loads of “who-the-fucking-hell-are-you”s.

To get the football bit out of the way: We seem to have the best forward line it is possible to assemble at this level. We’ve a talented manager who at this point doesn’t appear to be a fan-baiting egotist; although his haircut would be more at home in the under 16s. Friends have told me that Kasim looks to be a class act in the middle and we’ve shipped out some long servants who take their immodest salaries with them. So as usual, “We’re going up as fuckin’ champions” etc.

But as we set off on our victorious romp, let’s take a moment to think of those less fortunate than ourselves.

Cardiff City, a team so good at winding us up over the years that we almost set ourselves on fire by burning a Welsh flag in a wooden stand, has been rebranded.  Red Dragons now roar where Blue Birds once tweeted, all in the name of accessing new lucrative markets in Malaysia. Whatever we are as a club in 2012, we can be thankful that we are not yet that. But as the Olympics have shown, everything’s open for a rebrand now, even whole countries.

Great Britain used to be the name of Great Britain. Now it’s just a tourism marketing campaign by Visit Britain. If I’m right we live in ‘GB’ now, as featured in the Olympic sub brand Team GB. It’s shorter than the previous abbreviation ‘GBR’, so you can get in more LOLZ after it in a tweet. It’s a bit like Centre:MK. Easier to say than Milton Keynes shopping centre. Better. And it’s sponsored by Adidas so you know what clothes to buy while you stare wide-eyed at the gold rush.

Americanised team name and corporate greed aside, Danny Boyle showed in the opening ceremony that if you want to ‘sell’ a place to the world you don’t need to rebrand it with a new audience in mind. If you concentrate on the stories and heritage of its people then you’ve got something real and authentic. Football club owners take note.

So it's Gateshead on Saturday, who play their home games in an empty athletics stadium. As Bedfordshire once again braces itself for their 70 hardcore fans, and while we stare into the empty seats of the Oak Road and grimace at the thought of another season in the conference, remember this: at least no one has packaged us up and sold us to Malaysia.

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