The beautiful game, eh? Well, yes, perhaps once. But modern football has become a battle for the British viewer – a 95-minute challenge not to get riled about all manner of frippery obstructing true, honest football.  If it’s not players falling wounded to the ground at a gentle puff of air, hideous pairs of non-matching look-at-me boots or pointless half-and-half scarves, it’s the overpowering scent of the bourgeoisie. It’ beens a while since Roy Keane bemoaned the prawn sandwich brigade; today, he’d struggle to stomach the popcorn and guacamole. But the game of yore can be reclaimed by the people – so long as we abide these basic, 4-4-2 rules:

  1. Combine the fact that (i) Britain is a temperate oceanic climate with (ii) football being a strenuous exercise that warms the body, and the conclusion is clear: don’t doll yourself up in neoprene gloves and those ineffably idiotic ‘snoods’. Play like men.
  2. Managers, buck up your ideas. You are getting paid a silly amount to engage as omnipotent overlords of some of the world’s most talented players in the game to which you have had the pleasure of devoting your life. Smile more.
  3. Clubs, just take a minute before deciding to turn every single thing about your team into an advert. Don’t allow your pitch to be surrounded by distracting adverts – of dogs trotting, or massive Chinese hànzì. Nor let your beautiful kit be sponsored by the likes of Angry Birds (Everton), Black Death Vodka (Scarborough) and Wonga (Newcastle). Things have reached such a nadir that ‘sleeve sponsors’ have now outsted the Premier League logo. And just look at the clock: even the ruddy time is sponsored!
  4. A club’s home kit is sacrosanct; the away kit respects the home side’s privilege to wear it. But, if there is a potential clash, the host club should act like gents and allow the opposition to wear their home kit (which, by definition, will not clash). And yet all clubs have mounted the absurd bandwagon of ‘third kits’, favouring the ringing of tills to that of the terraces.
  5. Oh, Premier League: lower your ticket prices. Most season tickets cost the best part of a grand, and one-off entry could well cost £50 plus. Mr Corbyn will talk up the Arsenal, but their season tickets are the steepest in the nation; in fact, the average cost at the club is the highest in the world. The clubs will say, ‘We have to pay the wages for the top players, and it’s a free market in operation.’ The response is simple: ‘Pay less and see what good follows; and there’s no such thing as a free-market when you – and your heart – live in a one-club town.’
  6. Machell is a man of deep and sincere sentiment. But the increasingly frequent deployment of the pre-match silence / minute-specific applause / black armband is becoming mawkish, rather than poignant and instructive. If we’re at all honest, truly important people to a club, or the fanbase at large, die every week, and we should mark such losses in a more equitable and respectful fashion.
  7. Don’t flatter yourself that football as we know it has a place in America. It doesn’t.
  8. The Premier League has two duties: first, to put on a good spectacle of football, and second, to nourish home-grown talent. The balance of these is tricky – but we’ve really let it slide: seven out of ten Premiership players are foreign, the highest ratio in the world (OK, outside Cyprus). When the PL began, in 1992/93, there were thirteen non-Brits; since then it has played host to 113 nations. Is this beautiful progress or a spectacle of mercenaries? Follow the fate of England post-1990 to find out…
  9. If you’re involved in the excitement of a football match, you’ll stand up when action demands. And yet, standing is prohibited in our all-seating stadia. But head to any keen patch of fans, and standing they will be. So let’s cut the anachronistic anxiety and introduce rail-partitioned ‘safe standing’: 90% of fans, and almost all League clubs want it, so crack on. Increased capacity would mean cheaper tickets and better crowd atmosphere. OK, tobacco and beer have long since vanished from the stands, but let’s at least be allowed to stand in them.
  10. Don’t rename stadia. Or, if you really have to, let it be in someone’s honour, not just a cynical exercise in company vanity. Who’s proud to enter the ‘Bet365 Stadium’ (Stoke), the ‘Northern Commercials Stadium’ (Bradford), the ‘Vitality Stadium’ (Bournemouth), and – weirdest of all – the ‘World of Smile Stadium’ (Cheltenham)? And while I’m on the point, we’ve suffered quite enough torment from the disgracefully polyonymous League – or rather Milk-Littlewoods- Rumbelows-Coca-Cola-Worthington-Carling-Capital-One-Carabao – Cup, thank you very much.
  11. What greater thrill does the world hold than the elation of a goal? The view from Great Gable on a crisp February morning must come close, as too the first squeeze of a new-born bairn. So, joyous footballer, don’t taint that sublime catharsis by reperforming the queer choreography of your pre-rehearsed goal celebrations. And – spare us, ye gods – don’t do a thirteen-move handshake.
  12. There’s a fifteen-minute vacuum between the game’s two halves. Since the majority of that will be frittered away in desperately opportune advertising, why spend the precious remainder in absurdly vacuous match analysis? Yes, ‘the defence has been poor’; yes, ‘the goal was good’; no, ‘the manager won’t be happy’. And, the most pressing question of all in the world of punditry, is there any known purpose to Gary Lineker?
  13. Desist from the knee-jerk deployment of inconsequential statistics. The numbers men may boast that 96.4% of measurable features of the game are now statistically recorded. But who wants the simple pleasure of free-flowing football to be interrupted by graphics of how many times the ball has bounced or the opposition readjusted their laces? Get a grip and follow the game.
  14. The beautification of football grounds has gone far enough. Yes, those holes in the corrugated-iron rooves – and the nets – needed attention. But the paraphernalia surrounding so simple a game has become grotesque. Take your hospitality restaurants, your padded seats, and your air-conditioned substitute benches elsewhither!
  15. Don’t wear a shirt number over 30: if you’re in the team, you’re in the 25-man squad. Yes, perhaps a handful of other players may join in the season – but that’s it. To wear anything higher is pathetic. ‘But gaffer, my favourite number is 77.’ ‘Good. Divide it by eleven, add eight and trot on.’