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Will Jennings: How some football fans don’t live in real world

On the one hand, there were those fans – who, like me, probably watch a reasonable volume of Championship football – who recognised Batth’s experience, ability and player of the season-winning exploits in a Sunderland side who so nearly navigated their way to Wembley via the play-offs last term.  

But on the other, there were those who lazily wrote off Batth’s credentials and took aim at the club’s lack of ambition, hitting out at the underwhelming nature of the signing after the eleventh-hour departure of Andrew Omobamidele to Nottingham Forest. 

I saw several supporters make references to Batth’s inability to play ‘progressive passes’, his age – 32 – at the older end of the spectrum and the idea that Stuart Webber should have gone, with about one hour’s notice, and plucked out a highly-rated, ball-playing and youthful centre-back from another English club. 

Which reinforced the point I’ve been considering for some time across both City fans and beyond – do these people live in the real world or, instead, struggle to understand the way football works and perceive the professional game as a real-life version of FIFA or Football Manager? 

Norwich Evening News: Danny Batth signed for Norwich City late on deadline day

The way we analyse the game is understandably changing owing to technological advances, in-depth tactical insight and more digital platforms delving deeper into specific statistics. 

But when I’m seeing phrases like ‘progressive passing’, midfielders being referred to – factually inaccurately – as ‘No.6s’, ‘xG’ and strikers being labelled ‘STs’, it’s surely time to acknowledge the game is becoming over-complicated owing to the unnecessarily microscopic intervention of technology and computer games? 

I don’t want to sound like a dinosaur here and of course, understand that more advanced analysis is a natural form of evolution across the Premier League, Championship and beyond. 

But what has happened to simply watching a game of football – ideally in-person, where you obviously see considerably more than a dodgy illegal stream or watching on TV – forming your own opinions and speaking about it in a conventional form of language that has dominated the sport for decades? 

At the age of 26, I’ve grown up in an era where this unnecessarily convoluted jargon is becoming increasingly commonplace across football fans far and wide. 

And while many have been intoxicated by the ubiquity of virtual games and websites, numbers and the intensification of, quite frankly, nerdy analysis, what on earth has happened to simply going to games, judging it on the evidence you see first-hand and speaking about it with your mates – or on social media – in normal terms? 

The days of ‘defenders’, ‘midfielders’ and ‘strikers’ appear to now be firmly behind us. 

Instead, it’s all about ‘inverted ‘LWBs’, ‘No.6 and No.8s’, ‘No.10s’ and ‘false nines’. 

Similarly, notions such as ‘closing down’, ‘sitting deep’ and ‘giving the ball away’ are now nothing more than remnants of a bygone era. 

Now all we hear is pundits and, even more annoyingly, faceless footballing accounts on social media who invariably never attend matches, referring to ‘high pressing’, ‘low blocks’ and ‘transitions’, hellbent on sounding informed about a game they’ve probably rarely been exposed to or pay money to see in real life. 

And the same can be said for that ridiculous ‘xG’, a largely futile statistic that merely functions as a basic barometer of a game for people that probably don’t attend them or ever watch in person. 

The Batth backlash – from what I saw on my social media timeline anyway – was a perfect example of everything wrong with the way the modern game is perceived and, while football is obviously about opinions, I do struggle to engage with views – and this goes far beyond Norwich fans – from those who follow the sport from behind a computer screen, adopt to ridiculous geek-filled language yet tweet with the authority of Gary Neville. 

The simplicity and joy of watching, and forming opinions on, the beautiful game is being rapidly eroded and while others continue to rely on computers, unnecessarily convoluted analytics and scientific-resembling language, I’ll continue to trust my eyes over this increasingly alarming modern trend. 

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