Many of you will have assumed, given my status as a regular contributor to The Football Ramble, that I am an incredibly cool individual. You are of course 100% correct.
As a football blogger, my livelihood depends on me being ahead of the edge, on the cutting pulse, my finger on the curve. If I’m not full to the brim with the sort of vital new information about the worldwide development of the game that you, as a mere plodding Premier League watcher, have no conception of, I am nothing. While you wonder if Lamps doesn’t have another year in him after all, I’m pondering how Colombia are going to be a World Cup dark horse if they can find a reliable centre-half; how Gōtoku Sakai will be one of the best right backs in the world within the next five years; and how Viktoria Plzeň’s precision counter-attacking in their 3-0 victory over Napoli should come as no surprise to anyone with even the most basic knowledge of recent Gambrinus Liga history.
I am, in short, such a football hipster I could be used as a point of articulation between Rinus Michels’ thigh and pelvis.
So I know Borussia Dortmund and Shakhtar Donetsk, believe me, I know. I have a Top Five Favourite Darijo Srna free-kicks. I have strong opinions on whether Kevin Großkreutz should be developed as a winger, full-back or support stirker. I can spell ‘Shakhtar’ without checking. A Champions League tie between the two quick-passing, space pressing, forward-interchanging beacons of haute tactiques is so right up my alley it’s scaring the foxes away from my bins.
Why did I watch Real Madrid v Manchester United instead then?
On paper, it should have been a simple choice for the connoisseur seeking turf-bound elegance. Do you watch the collection of surly superstars, burned out by extended exposure to unstable Mourinhium radiation, versus a midfield mirage and a strike-partnership so mismatched that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau will be playing them in the movie adaptation? Or do you rather opt for the finest blend of flair and industry since Liberace opened an ore smelting plant?
And yet… I couldn’t get the sheer weight of Real vs United out of my head. Not just the game-specific storylines of Cristiano playing against his alma mater, or the potential baton-pass between the generations of victory-fixated managerial paradigms. Nor just the season defining potential of the tie for a old-stager looking for the last big score to round out his unprecedentedly glittering career, or the club that defines itself by success attempting to obliterate a mediocre campaign by stamping its ownership all over the biggest trophy in the game. It was the big clubs, big players, big money – the big everything – that caught my attention.
I want to be someone who chooses the matches he watches entirely on the merits of the product on the pitch, but that’s just not how anyone engages with football. The celebrities, the soap opera, the dizzying personality cults are all such an obviously vital part of the game’s appeal that it actually bears stating to make sure we’re aware it’s happening. We’ve all oohed and ahhed over a YouTube clip of a sixty-yard overhead net burster rocketing from the foot of an amateur Bahraini goalkeeper - but it’s the context, the knowledge and the appertaining prestige that lodge a goal of similar technical élan from Messi so much more thoroughly in the memory.
Oddly, it is exactly this appeal of personality that leads fans to choose to follow lower league sides over more storied names. Whether its because of the connection felt to a local institution, or the preference for a more ‘honest’ footballing environment, the urge to stand in a terraced shed cheering on a moderately talented bricklayer in a pair of Predators is every bit as much a decision based on personality over content as the boy from Arbroath who cheers on Chelsea because he thinks Juan Mata’s eyebrows are cool.
But then, aren’t hipsters – in the cultural sense of the term – the ones who are meant to be seeking out objects, art and identity based on their edgy context or quirky personality regardless of their actual quality? That’s the reason why they wear jeans so skinny they threaten their fertility instead of just kicking back and admitting that the Saturdays have got some great tunes, actually? By constantly turning up to watch our local clubs instead of the objectively highest quality match on at that time, aren’t we all football hipsters?
All I know is that the Real/United game was soundly entertaining, and by the looks of the highlights and the forlorn tweets of the truly committed Mircea Lucescu-philes, so was Shakhtar/Dortmund. Any time you have a choice of matches, listen to your heart and go with the one that interests you most at that time – it’s all football, it’s all good.
That said, there’s no way I’m watching Arsenal vs Bayern Munich when there’s a Porto/Málaga match to be had at the same time. I’ll be sitting on a Fairtrade beanbag, wearing a hemp cardigan, getting my Isco on. Because it’ll be cool.
Nicol Hay watches a lot of sport and then writes about it. It's a compulsion, and he needs help desperately. His blogging can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter here.