x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

I can't get no satisfaction

Like the allegedly shrinking salads of Old Trafford, football still looks great. But it is not as satisfying as it used to be.

Manchester United fans moan about Malcolm Glazer, their club's American owner.
Manchester United fans moan about Malcolm Glazer, their club's American owner.

A new verb for you: "to Glazer over". It describes that trance-like boredom we feel whenever Manchester United fans, inconsolable with grief at enduring a whole season without any silverware, moan about Malcolm Glazer, their club's American owner, and his cohorts. My eyes began to "Glazer over" this week when yet another United fan phoned into my favourite radio show for a classic whinge.

All the usual suspects were there. They do not understand our history. Check. They do not attend matches. Check. They sold Cristiano Ronaldo to service their huge debt. Check. They have made the dining plates and wine glasses smaller. Che ... what? I ceased Glazing over and pricked up my ears. According to Mr Angry, who allegedly worked in catering at United's Old Trafford stadium, the tableware has been shrinking in recent years in order to decrease portion sizes, and hence increase profits, without diners noticing.

Although this accusation has the distinct whiff of urban myth - since when have Americans encouraged anyone to eat less? - I do hope it is true. I hope it is true because I like to imagine the conversation during that particular meeting. "OK, next item is reducing our £716m (Dh2.629bn) debt. Last year we raised £80m by selling our best player. Any other ideas?" "Er ... fewer prawns in the seafood salad?"

"Nice thinking, but the limeys can't know. Get onto our small plate guys." I hope it is true because it represents another blow to the presumed glamour of corporate hospitality, which is a blight on the football experience. I know this from bitter experience, having chosen to watch Liverpool play Barcelona from a corporate box at Anfield, instead of a seat on the Kop. Hermetically sealed by a glass screen from the electric atmosphere, I realised I had sold my soul for a free meal. Thankfully, this was before Liverpool's new "investors" arrived, so at least I can assume I sold it for a full-sized plate.

But most of all, I hope it is true because it provides us with a useful analogy about modern football. Whether or not we support a successful club, we have all seen our tableware reduced in recent years. By which I mean our expectations have been gradually, almost imperceptibly, chiselled away for somebody else's profit. We have become used to the mundane atmospheres generated by the "family friendly" stadia which replaced our old cauldrons of testosterone.

We have become used to players who kiss the badge in public, yet demand increasingly huge wages in private. We have become used to owners who invest in a club for profit, instead of prestige. And we have become used to the skewed ambitions which place a higher value on finishing fourth in the Premier League than on winning the FA Cup, or on desperately clinging to Premier League status over playing attractive football.

Like the allegedly shrinking seafood salads of Old Trafford, football still looks great. But it is not as satisfying as it used to be. And while world-class talent continues to flock to "the best league in the world", we may be forgiven for thinking that our cup runneth over. Well, maybe it does. Or maybe somebody just slipped us a smaller cup. Reason, perhaps, to avoid Glazering over when true fans, even United fans, complain about the erosion of old traditions.

What is going on with the Philadelphia Phillies fans? They already had a reputation for uncivilised behaviour but Citizens Bank Park is sounding more like the Roman Colosseum every day: a source of barbaric entertainment for the baying mob. Last month we saw a Taser gun used on a harmless teenage pitch invader - an activity which I am still pushing to become a sport in itself. Hey, I never said I wasn't part of the baying mob. And last week we heard about another Phillies fan who took the whole Roman motif to another level: forced vomiting. (Caution: please finish any food or drink before reading further.) Matthew Clemmens, 21, from New Jersey, deliberately vomited on to another fan after they exchanged heated words during a Phillies-Washington Nationals game in April. Clemmens told a friend that "I need to do what I need to do" before forcing his fingers down his throat, like Emperor Nero halfway through a feast. He pleaded guilty to assault and will be sentenced in July. But what about the wider repercussions for sport? Football fans are already subject to frisking and bag-searches before matches, during which potential missiles are confiscated. The use of one's own gastric contents as an offensive weapon could take pre-match frisking to a new level. "Had a big lunch did we, sir?" "Fish and chips." "Any dessert, sir?" "Chocolate cake." "Afraid I can't let you in, sir. That kind of load would cause carnage. You'll need to visit the nearest vomitorium." And just imagine what will happen if some notorious troublemakers, such as Millwall fans, get onto this trend. Put it this way: if you see them sneaking a load of Diet Coke and Mentos into the ground, it might be a good idea to put up your umbrella. Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sport fan sports@thenational.ae