Just a day ago, Marca was awash in righteous indignation over the interruption of a press conference. Today, they have nearly buried the news that all is forgiven by Getafe. Today they care more about whether some Barcelona players dressed as ghouls than the Madrid-PSG match that’s occuring tonight. Today, they’re more interested in stoking the fires in a way that already got Sid Lowe to describe them as having their knickers in a twist.
This, however, is nothing new and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Marca is not some isolated case. AS leads with it too. Sport puts it third. Mundo Deportivo has it next to an external link to a story about an Uber driver being assaulted. This isn’t a one way street, of course: both of the Barcelona-based papers are not known for their kid gloves when it comes to anything deemed “scandalous” eminatting from Madrid. El Pais recently ran an op-ed about how journalists are thoroughly discouraged from being able to write real news by the very teams they cover and whose fans complain of the media attention to minor details. It should also be noted that El Pais barely mention the post-Getafe Halloween nonsense. Yes, El Pais is owned by the same company that owns AS, so perhaps they can afford to be higher-brow, but even so, it’s nice to see.
Regardless, we are not better people for the teams we support, but we can easily be worse people if we discourage proper discourse about or interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of the clubs we follow. To hold the current Barca board up as exemplars of The Way Things Ought To Be simply because they are our board is to miss a few dozen actual scandals, including allegations of tax fraud, outright deception of club members, and underhanded changes to bylaws. I’m not saying anyone does ignore this (though certainly enough of a percentage of the voting base either does or doesn’t care about the other stuff), but that the lead stories in a moment when a Barcelona vice president stands accused of involvement in the money-laundering schemes of Jordi Pujol, are about whether Paul Pogba is worth 290 million euros is also the moment when you realize you’re wasting your time with these news outlets.
Even in a world where attempting to unsettle “the other side” seems to be the modus operandi of the tabloids, actual institutional sickness is not as sexy a story as man-children dressing up as ghouls after a match. Videos of players eating hamburgers on the street after a night out make the rounds, but how many of you even knew which vice president I was was referring to above without clicking on the link? Seems it might be somewhat more newsworthy that the vice president of the “Area of Institutional and International Relations” who is also the vice president of Rotschild Bank and whose wife’s family owns Sabadell Bank is accused of economic crimes.
It doesn’t haven’t to do with football of course, will come the hew and cry of those who’d rather have soundbites than long-form journalism (goodbye, Grantland, my love), but the problem isn’t that the world isn’t made up of New York Times Magazine articles constantly shattering our worldviews, but instead that the minor antics of a few players after a match also have nothing to do with football. It feels weird to turn to the English media (The Guardian, of course) for quality coverage of Spain’s top flight, but here we are. Yes, Santiago Segurola continues to be a must-read writer, but he’s buried somewhere beneath Tiramillas links and other bricabrac that you just skim. Or, well, you do just skim over all that, right?
And here we have the conundrum of the modern football fan: it is actually fun to laugh at Sergio Ramos’ latest grammatical or mental stumble, but every click we make on that story is another time such a story will be produced and, eventually, they drown out the real stories that we pretty much universally believe are important.
For instance: Chelsea is 15th in the league, having lost more times (6) than they have won or drawn combined (5). For someone like me, who really doesn’t like Chelsea (for a variety of reasons at this point, but which were originally based on poor understanding of how status quo hierarchies are created and maintained), this is fantastic news. Reading about Eva Carneiro taking the club and its manager to court brings an evil grin to my face because schadenfreude is real. I joked yesterday on Twitter that it would be fantastic to see Bojan score the goal that got Mourinho fired and I kind of mean it because I am still angry at Frank De Bleeckere and Olegario Benquerenca for their calls or non calls over that two-legged slugfest that ended with Mourinho permanently becoming Enemy Number 1 as he slid across the Camp Nou grass.
And it’s that self-righteous anger, that childish reaction on my part that causes me to click on that story about hamburgers in the middle of the night or care whether Iniesta is a nice guy off the field. It’s the desire to be attached to something great, to be the winner in every conversation, to be able to hold your head up high while you wear your team’s logo on your hat as you take the subway to work, surrounded by strangers who are either in on the joke or jerks who should come stand on the Right Side of History. We click because it’s great fun to click and take a moment—just a single moment—to get the “facts” of a case and then tweet out a nice joke about it. Then we move on.
We’re at that point in the season where everything is either a brilliant triumph that reinforces the inherent goodness in the team or a disaster that shows the gaping chasm between expectation and reality. We’re at that point in history where you’re either immortalized or forgotten, depending on what you did on the most recent weekend and what you’ll do in the next. There is no long game.
Except, there is, if we want there to be. We can smile at the nice things because, well, they’re nice, but we can also take the time to read serious journalism and discuss serious topics. We’re not always right and neither are our opponents always wrong. Let’s try to remember that we can have our cake and eat it too, so long as we don’t fall prey to the clickbait. Or, well, not too often anyway. Because who can resist this guy (not her!). It’ll change your life.