Writing About Football in 2023? It’s A Funny Old Game
By Gareth Roberts
FOR, I reckon, at least the last four weeks, I’ve sat down to write this post, stared at a blank screen and a blinking cursor, and the first thought that has come to mind has been: “It’s a funny old game.”
Which isn’t particularly helpful. Because while each week proves it is indeed a funny old game, and Jimmy Greaves was right when he said so on so many occasions on Saint & Greavsie (an ITV football show that ran from 1985 to 1992 for the uninitiated), it doesn’t really help too much when tasked with creating some original content about The Reds.
This week, when faced with the same mission, I waited expectantly for the same thought to flow through into my consciousness.
Instead, a different bit of TV gold popped up (this happens regularly by the way. I don’t know if it’s good or bad thing, a curse or a gift) and this time it was Archie, The Pub Bore.
Again, apologies for the self-indulgent 1990s reference points, but this time it’s The Fast Show. Archie would talk to anyone who’d listen, find out what they do for a living, then proceed to tell unlikely stories about his experiences working in the same field.
“The old preaching game? All the kneeling and praying? Hardest game in the world. Done it meself, you see. Thirty years - man and boy.”
I wonder what Archie would make of producing football content in 2023.
“The old content game? Podcasts, blogs, and websites? Social media? The random abuse for just having an opinion? The strange dissection of anything and everything you say or do? Not the same anymore. Saturation point. You can’t say anything these days. People get offended by an opinion that doesn’t match theirs. You can’t say one player is better than another without getting stick in this day and age. And even if you don’t write clickbait someone will say it’s clickbait anyway. Done it meself, you see. Thirty years - man and boy.”
I’m not quite there yet, but I’m about halfway. I started a blog about Liverpool in 2008, Well Red. That later became a magazine. The Anfield Wrap followed. And now I’m doing this and The Late Challenge.
Going back to 2008, there was no pressure. I started writing about Liverpool for no other reason than wanting to publish something for myself; an outlet for the frustrated football writer stuck on alternative career paths.
Then people actually read it, liked it, and it went from there. Now? Well now, what should be the approach? Personal and casual like this post so far? Professional and polished? A mixture of the two?
And what about trying to find something different to say? As Archie observed in the imaginary scenario above, we now live in times of a huge proliferation of football media.
Should you so wish, across online, radio and TV, you can consume discussion of the game all day, every day.
For some, the move is to go extreme. There is always a crisis club. Always a manager under pressure. Always a player who is an expensive flop, or could be an expensive flop.
There are transfer rumours, many unfounded and without source. There is banter and baiting. There are the completely one-eyed takes where a club and its employees can do no wrong.
And there is Joey Barton. He’s starting a podcast. And he thinks all this is a good way to get you to notice it.
Across the board, all that can make it feel like a grind. So the rules go for many, if you’re a content producer, you’ve had your say. And everything that comes back in reply is fair game
I’ve had it suggested to me that I should kill myself and that I’m a paedophile across my time producing content.
I’ve also seen a forum post hoping that the coach carrying me to a final was involved in a road accident.
All for having an opinion about football. So some weeks, particularly when there are off-field issues to deal with, inspiration is on short supply.
Perhaps that’s why the TV gold arrives. It’s a funny old game.
It’s Heaven For Ell
TO take on the theme of the above, if indeed there was one, this week I eventually decided I’d write about Harvey Elliott.
After all, I thought, who doesn’t like Harvey Elliott? Then of course I instantly reconsidered that thought. Of course there are people who don’t like Harvey Elliott.
I’ve seen him described as “Jay Spearing with a perm”, which is incredibly harsh on all involved.
Because there are always people who don’t like everything, no matter who they are, what they are, or how much of a force for good they are.
PURE CLASS! ✨— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) December 9, 2023
Harvey Elliott scores a wonderful goal to put Liverpool ahead 💥
What a goal! 👏 pic.twitter.com/s19ttdO9P9
I was really pleased it was Elliott who popped up with the winner at Selhurst Park on Saturday. To my mind, he has been a real positive for Liverpool this season.
He brings energy to games, he is forward thinking, he makes things happen, he tries things, and he has the right attitude.
Not only did Eliott score the winner against Palace with a quality goal, he was the player breaking away that tempted Jordan Ayew into a challenge that led to his sending off.
He also teed up Luis Diaz for his offside “goal” and he didn’t give the ball away once in his 16-minute cameo. That show as a supersub followed 24 minutes at Luton when his contribution included providing the cross for Diaz to equalise and 34 minutes at Wolves when he was awarded another assist after his shot was deflected in by Hugo Bueno to put the cherry on top of another comeback win, that time 3-1 at Molineux in September.
It’s easily forgotten with Elliott being at Liverpool for four years now that he is still only 20 years old. When he signed for the club he had not long become the the youngest debutant in Premier League history when he played for Fulham against Wolverhampton Wanderers aged 16 years and 30 days (a record since broken by Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri, who played for the Gunners aged 15 years, 181 days).
Elliott has since spent the 2020-21 season on loan at Blackburn, scoring seven times and registering 11 assists during an impressive campaign in the Championship.
Harvey Elliott scored seven goals and provided 11 assists in last season's Championship. Only Michael Olise (19) had more league goal involvements as a teenager in England's top four tiers in 2020-21 than Elliott (18).— Michael Reid (@michael_reid11) July 9, 2021
Elliott only turned 18 in April. #LFC https://t.co/sMTCBfuTya pic.twitter.com/xlepcTbkHP
At 18 years, 329 days, Elliott became the youngest player to represent the Reds in a major final (and the youngest to play at Wembley) when he won the League Cup with Liverpool in 2022.
And he is closing in on 100 appearances for Liverpool already with 86 clocked up and many more to come.
The Reds have 18 games scheduled before Eliott turns 21 (and more guaranteed in Europe). Should he clock up 14 appearances before his birthday, he would pip team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold and become the fourth youngest player in the history of the club to hit 100 games for Liverpool.
Trent managed it aged 21 years and 26 days. Only Robbie Fowler, Raheem Sterling and Michael Owen managed it at a younger age.
It's a decent company to be keeping. And who would bet against it after cameos like that on Saturday?