Football and the Importance of Community
Introducing the 'This Red Planet' Substack
Playing football as a kid was often the highlight of any day. In the school playground, the park across the road, local football pitches, in the garden, outside the local shop, on the pavement walking to the bus stop, sometimes on the five-a-side pitch outside Halifax Town’s stadium (The Shay) and even on the outfield of the local cricket ground!
It was arguably the most vital part of our community growing up. We’d play for local teams, support different teams, play for different schools against each other and even different youth clubs but all still turn up and play headers and volleys together, or three-and-in; or any number of other creations; when we had a enough of us, we’d have proper match. With ages ranging from eight to fifteen in some cases. We even had former Sheffield United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny (who was by far the best player - in and out of goal) playing with us from about the age of 12.
We had Subbuteo leagues and Sensible Soccer tournaments; Panini sticker books and swapsies; Pick Italian teams to support when Gazzatta Football Italia started on Channel Four, and international teams to support who England failed to qualify for USA ’94 (I picked the hosts).
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Then I moved away from the area, first to college, then to university. There was a huge void. Liverpool FC was still my team, but following a football team was difficult when everyone else was interested in bands, rock climbing, kayaking, motorbikes or mountain biking, going to pubs and getting pissed or going out and meeting girls … anything but football (it was looked down upon to an extent in my friend groups at university). And to be honest, the lads interested in football where I went to uni were - without exception - arseholes. Or certainly acted like it whenever I spent any time with them.
Because the area (North Wales) was so beautiful, I ended up staying after my degree and post graduate study and working in various places up and down the coast. This leads to another vital point about football - and more importantly the experience of discussing football - particularly with fans of other clubs: it was mostly grim. Clichés and codswallop. Banter and bullshit. Nonsensical narratives and spurious straw men. Scoreboard journalism aplenty and the absence of any statistical evidence. Nobody needs tactical analysis, they’d been watching the game for years and knew better than the managers. Foreign players, managers and owners were ruining the game. And I wanted to bang my head against a fucking brick wall whenever anyone mentioned zonal marking being inferior to man marking.
We didn’t have Opta, Prozone, Moneyball or expected goals.
Then one day I saw a couple of articles linked to on a LFC forum (can’t even remember which one but it was probably Red and White Kop) by some fella called Paul Tomkins.
Detailed analysis (as presented in the incredibly well researched book ‘Soccernomics’, aka ‘Why England Lose’) shows that the size of a club’s wage bill correlates with an accuracy to 92% of the success it achieves. Based on this fact, only two clubs have had a big enough wage bill to win the Premiership since 2004. Funnily enough, they are Chelsea and Manchester United. (Now there’s a coincidence.)
A few weeks later I paid for my first subscription on The Tomkins Times. It was a revelation. At first it was all lurking and drinking in the debate, as it should be for most new subscribers. Getting a feel for the place. Learning the rules, learning the etiquette, but more importantly learning about Liverpool Football Club in a way I’d never had the chance to do before. I’d managed to get to a few matches over the years, but most of my fandom was from afar.
Now there was a vast array of fans - incredibly - being civil to each other (99% of the time). It was bliss. It was my new community. A community from all parts of the world with very different experiences and perspectives not only on our football team, but music, books, travel and all sorts of other disparate subjects.
Three of my favourite (non-Tomkins) articles illustrate this perfectly: How Pascal’s Triangle Led to a Mental Season; Football and Kung Fu - Lessons in Dedication and Worldwide Fans, Kick-Off Times and International Media Rights - an In-Depth Study.
That final piece, incidentally, was written by Nabs Al-Busaidi a TTT subscriber who, and I quote, was the “first Arab to walk 650km to the magnetic North Pole” and, just in case that wasn’t enough, is also the “first Arab to row 4,600km across the Atlantic Ocean”.
Not only that, but the one time when I left TTT, not through choice but because I lost my vision for three months due to Bechets Disease, Paul sent me a message asking if I wanted a complimentary subscription as I was on benefits at the time and couldn’t afford to subscribe, but also a small amount of freelance work that eventually led to a permanent position on the TTT staff, and to me becoming a long term survivor of the infamous TTT dungeon! It’s been a privilege from start to finish.
This Red Planet will build upon all of this (as started in the book, This Red Planet), and how important community it is for all of us in the modern world.
The first few weeks will see an in-depth look at Johann Hari’s book ‘Lost Connections’ and how it relates to being a football supporter (the increase in social media as the leading platform for ‘debate’ rather than meaningful relationships and connections with friends).
Another is the increased occurrence of our own personal biases and blind spots, with detailed reference to ‘The Scout Mindset’ by Julia Galef who suggests there are two archetypal ways of thinking: The Scout and The Soilder mindsets, one that is defensive, shoots down others and subconsciously defends pre-existing beliefs and views; and the other that acknowledges our own flaws, is willing to learn from mistakes and is genuinely interested in the truth rather than consistently confirming their own truth.
Rory Smith’s new book ‘Expected Goals: The Story of How Data Conquered Football and Changed the Game Forever’ with particular focus on Liverpool’s role in this recently, and how we can all use data to enjoy the game more.
We’ll also be looking at David Goldblatt’s book ‘The Age of Football’ and how “nations, peoples, and neighbourhoods across the globe imagine and invent themselves through playing and following the game.”
Indeed, we’ll be looking at all kinds of things. Paul will also be adding his thoughts, and sharing work leftover from the book, and expanding ideas that there wasn’t space for in 250 pages.
Before concluding I just want to quote this magnificent paragraph from Paul and how you can all help with a section of This Red Planet called ‘The Joy of Football’:
“Under American ownership, Liverpool had a German manager, corralling an Egyptian goal machine, a Dutch defensive rock, and a Brazilian trio of guts and guile and glue-like gloves. There was a Senegalese scorer, a Spanish maestro, a French substrat rocheux and a cavalier Colombian; a German-Cameroonian cool-cat, a Greek madman, a Guinean grafter; a Japanese marksman, a Belgian cult hero, a Portuguese poacher, and a laid-back Irish custodian; plus a batch of Brits who brought Mackem might, Yorkshire-hewn grit, Scottish indefatigability and Scouse skill.”
The Joys of Football
We want to learn about you the subscribers too, as one of the most successful and enjoyable parts of the old TTT was the My Day at the Match series and learning about people’s different experiences of going to watch our beloved Liverpool.
Since moving the site to Substack this autumn, the core TTT community (in terms of commenting and discussing the games) will remain at the TTT Main Hub, but on the TTT side projects (what we call sub-Substacks, explained here), we can focus in on different areas, aside from what takes place on the pitch. Debate will take place on these sub-Substacks, depending on the specialist subjects.
And on This Red Planet, the sense of community, and the global appeal of football – as well as looking at the Joys of Football, as discussed, but also why Football is Broken – a look at the things that get in the way of our enjoyment, including the various unappealing (and sometimes sickening) aspects of the modern game.
For the series the Joys of Football I will interview (either via email, Zoom or recording audio for a podcast) those interested about their own football communities, what it’s like to experience Liverpool Football Club around the world, supporters’ club stories, watching the matches at ridiculous times, once in a lifetime trips to Anfield and walking onto the Kop, the vast richness of learning about what living on This Red Planet can mean.
(If you are interested please comment below, or contact us via email.)
Note: this site will be a mixture of free and paywalled content, in the way that has funded TTT ever since its launch in 2009.