The Great British Bake Off is a staple in our house. Tuesdays aren’t Tuesdays without someone eagerly mentioning it’s Tuesday. Ergo, Bake Off. And while it’s still a landmark event of our midweek, I’ve come to realise that while it’s definitely on my TV, it’s been months since I’ve actually watched it.
I know there’s the contestant we’re expected to marvel at because she knows about Victoria Sponges while wearing a hijab. There’s the camp late-middle aged man finding his metier after years of inner torment. There’s the thirty-something alpha male engineer – and what I wouldn’t do to be that dough being pummelled by those hands. Then there’s the one who may be sleeping with Paul Hollywood and the nice young people – one of each sex – who play the viola and read books and make your kids look even more vile than they already are.
The list goes on. But I can’t remember their names, I can’t remember who left the tent or who was star baker. I remember being incredulous that in Japanese week one of the contestants used Indian spices. But, I can’t remember what they had to make, it was just an omnipresent thing that happened. In our house, this is pretty much how it’s been every week for every year it’s been on.
I was also watching our latest surrender to Charlton on my laptop, but it would be wrong to think that distraction was the reason I missed the details in Bake Off. The game was hardly an absorbing spectacle, despite playing well and dominating for the opening half-an-hour, all the old favourites played out, defensive and goalkeeping frailties, and we fell without much fight.
But, like the Bake-Off, I’ve come to realise although the football is on, I don’t really watch it in this format. Not when it’s stripped back like it has to be now. I’ve never been a great technician, I’ve no idea what a ‘high-press’ is or when ‘the overload is on’ and am even less likely to go looking for it via a live internet feed. Football, to me is about how it makes me feel, and watching on a laptop makes me feel a little underwhelmed.
I’m starting to surprise myself about how little I’m interested in football now the spectacle and physical experience has gone. I’m really only interested in my club, and currently that interest stretches little beyond surviving this period so that I can re-engage with the bits I like sometime in the future.
As such I realised last night that another defeat doesn’t concern me too much. While avoiding relegation is important, I’m not that interested in promotion in these circumstances. Much like back in July and Wembley, I’d take promotion if it were offered, I wouldn’t weep if it didn’t happen. It would always be tainted; a sanitised version of the real thing. I’m not that bothered that we aren’t competing at that end of the table at the moment, though I recognise that might be different if we were actually winning games.
I suspect I’ll continue to log on and dutifully hand over my £10 for away games, but I’m less engrossed with every passing game. The problem is that I’m not normal, I have a higher than average interest in the club, if I’m losing interest, plenty of others will be in a similar position, if not beyond it already.
The truth is that the internet is a supplementary connection to the real thing. There’s a generation of fans who might see football as an exclusively passive TV experience, but at our level, the joys of going to a game, living the ups and downs as a great amorphous whole remain as they’ve been for over a century. If you can see your club in real life, then you will. We tolerate the imposition of coronavirus at the moment, but even the most hardy will tire of it eventually; faster if form isn’t good.
This disengagement must be evident in the numbers logging into iFollow, unless they’ve hit upon an internet sensation, it still surprises me how passive the EFL, FA and Premier League are about getting fans back into stadiums. It’s perhaps the only facet of everyday life which hasn’t sought out a new normal. Of course, there’s an expense, but simply waiting for the virus to pass is surely not a sustainable option. Not just because of the short term impact, but the long term damage of an increasingly passive and disinterested audience which will be harder to win back when normal service is resumed.
We seem to be at a point football as a sport is satisfied with its plan; it’s always been a short termist sport, but the erosion of interest through their inaction, risks not only immediate financial hardships, but also pushing the sport to the margins of our consciousness. If this goes on much longer, the season could start to feel particularly isolating for everyone.