Amid Twitter’s Brexit scuffles, Trumpian malfeasance, and observations from smartarse journalists, humblebrag thought leaders and constitutional lawyers, there is an occasional short video clip that delivers momentary joy.
While rooted in the past, it channels the present; the account revels in the downfall and ineptitude of people who demonstrate fallibility and excruciating unfitness for their roles.
Although these characteristics might also be those associated with many in contemporary political life, the sixty second pleasure bombs contained in @Crap90sFootball are a joyride of nostalgia that harken back to distant times.
Yes, there was football before the Premier League (yes, even before the Premiership, and some of it was, really, really atrocious. That’s the joy of @Crap90sFootball, a time capsule of grainy VHS clips that brilliantly captures an era of flat-footed cloggers wearing strips that look like hand-me-downs from older siblings.
Created by James Richardson, a local government worker in Hull, @Crap90sFootball started as a YouTube channel with digitised footage from VHS tapes of Hull City games that Richardson and his friend had recorded and which were collecting dust.
On the tapes were round-ups from Yorkshire TV news shows of games involving local teams. There was one, in particular, that Richardson recalls. “It was before the redevelopment of Molineux and there was a crumbling terrace, a pitch that looked like it had been plowed before the game and this donkey centre-half got his feet in a muddle and put it in the back of his own net,” he says of a game at the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers. “There were three or four goals back-to-back like this and I thought ‘this needs a showcase – it would be a pity to lose it as all my friends grew up watching this stuff’.”
The 34-year-old started the Twitter account – which now has 84,000 followers – in 2016. Scroll through the gratifyingly imperfect footage and you’ll find an archive of deficiency and self-immolation: shots looping over crossbars, Keystone Cops defending as balls bobble around penalty boxes as slick as chocolate ganache with limbs making half connections, ruinous back-passes that force flummoxed goalkeepers to scramble across their penalty box with the grace of newborn giraffes.
Often what is most joyful about the clips is the sheer amount of galvanised full-body commitment demonstrated by players whose purpose is resolute yet whose timing is inexact. The pleasure of the clips is often in direct proportion to the determination and sincerity of intent when a shot is shanked or a clearance is bungled.
“When football became fashionable in the mid-nineties, broadcasters decided to start showing games,” Richardson says, “but the quality simply wasn’t there until 2003 to 2005.”
The feed’s endless scroll of players hitting the deck as they trip over the ball in innocuous circumstances and penalty boxes defined by muddle and discomposure retains many of the elements of physical comedy, and feels like relief from the modern-day thoroughbreds at the elite clubs – pedigree virtuosos decoupled from the biomechanics that constrain the rest of us.
But this, obviously, is where we are now. As Big Tech companies increasingly see ‘content’ as a key differentiator that will enable to them to attract customers to their platforms, so the Premier League – with its practiced dramaturgy and able stagecraft becomes a property like The Simpsons or Friends – it’s a commodity to get punters through the door and deeper into the value chain. Prospects are upsold from torrid end-of-season struggles to duels between sovereign wealth fund-backed clubs to sapless competitions hosted in countries with a questionable human rights record.
The Premier League has matured into an oligopoly baying for magnums of vintage Krug from its well-padded booth in a Mayfair nightclub – the bore that corrals you while it flicks through its iPhone 11 Max Pro to show you Instagram images of its new, hot, Qatari conquest.
@Crap90sFootball reminds us that most football is played on terrible pitches by fallible people, and of a time before we were fully platformised, leveraged and monetised. An era when there were fans not customers, supporters not sources of revenue. Days when players were only just beginning to live lives divorced from the hugger-mugger concerns of the paying supporters, before clubs had official partners with expertise in data protection and hybrid cloud storage.
And, even at this time of goodwill to all people, nothing beats the giddy jubilance of watching an authentically calamitous back pass trickle into an empty net.
Obsessions is a semi-regular column in which WIRED staffers share their current internet preoccupations. Read about our obsession with ridiculously complex wedding spreadsheets here.
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