Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Soccer puritanism and the sin of "entertainment"

There is a feeling in the air, a sort of sea change, following Sunday's final. You mostly find it on apologist message boards and blog comment sections, but some have written long form posts on it. It's the idea that "entertaining football" is a crass Americanization, a romantic revision born in Mexico 1970. Under this view, television cameras, wages and commercial sponsorships are merely incidental to the purity of twenty-two players playing a soccer game. It embraces the potentially devastating errors of referees and officials because, as Declan Hill once told me, the game played on the global stage should be a mere extrapolation from the game played by children in dusty back lots in Kinshasa.  It rejects the idea of fair play or positive tactics as inherently good qualities in the sport; those are the gripes of moralizing North American observers who just "don't understand" how soccer is viewed "in the wider world." And it describes soccer spectators not as paying consumers in search of some good goals and attacking play, but as participants in a mysterious foreign ritual, shielded from crude American eyes.  

The Globe and Mail's John Doyle, writing about the school inside River Plate stadium, sums it up:
The texture of the connection between the team and one part of Buenos Aires is just indescribably deep. In much of the world, soccer is like that – it’s not an entertainment enterprise. It is part of life itself. It’s not a TV show.
Not a TV show. Let's call this view "soccer puritanism." Sometimes it can be disguised as a particularly noxious form of Euro snobbery in North America, but it curries favour with soccer people pretty much everywhere.

And it is absolute guff.

As a more talented writer than I might argue, all Sport is a TV Show. Football is no different from the NFL, NHL, or all those commercialized league sports soccer adherents tend to describe as genetically inferior to the Simplest Game. Millions around the world tune don't tune in to watch/bet on the same four teams bang heads in the Premier League because "it's part of life." Suarez is not Che Guevara because he stuck his hand out to stop a goal, and Maradona isn't the sly devil spoken about in Argentine myth because he volleyballed in a goal against England in 1986, no matter what cheesy prose Jorge Valdano has in mind to convince us otherwise.

Just as Ian Plenderleith wrote in the last WSC that soccer is not going to save developing nations from poverty because everyone looks happy waving flags and singing songs in foreign languages while the games are on, neither is football somehow "above" the often crass demands of the television entertainment industry. Spectators don't pay thousands of pounds and Euros in season tickets and hundreds of pounds on cable subscriptions because of a "great global ritual." Footballers in Europe are usually classified as entertainment workers. World Cup advancing teams get player bonuses, paid not in glory but in Euros. Kick-off times are determined by TV networks, and the talented players who embody the aesthetic spirit of blah blah blah are bought and sold with money earned from television rights.

Soccer isn't "just" a game, and I don't mean in the Shankly sense. It has long since morphed into a global money-making juggernaut, and no, that isn't a mark of the market moving into the temple. Maybe (playing with fire here) it's not even a bad thing. It's easy to take the Galeano approach and say that because soccer has been increasingly commercialized, it has become inherently worse from an aesthetic perspective, as if Garrincha's poverty somehow made his skill all the more ingenious.  That too is false, as many a cracking, multi-million dollar Champions League semifinal will attest.

Soccer needs purity like a fish needs a bicycle. I'm a back-and-forth neutral on video replay, but I don't understand the absurd, pseudo-religious opposition to a technology that could in seconds rectify a simple wrong, like a big white ball crossing a big white line.  I also don't think Americans who thought Sunday's final was boring, cynically physical, unskilled, and yes, low-scoring, are vapid idiots addicted to the instant gratification of the American Sports Machine. I just think they have a pair of eyes. While Zonal Marking's after-the-fact summaries are consistently brilliant, they have the habit of limiting soccer's 'ought' to a dismal, tactically negative 'is,' and many of us will walk away, slightly confused, assuming that must have been a brilliant final after all.

I just wish sometimes we could do away with this canned romanticism that insists we should be grateful for whatever the game gives us. Soccer is entertainment. While fair, positive, attacking play can't and shouldn't be demanded a la Blatter's wacky rule changes, it should at least be firmly encouraged without fear the whole enterprise will go tumbling into a black hole of American schmaltz, or as Doyle put it, a series of "Hallmark moments."

I don't want Hallmark moments, I don't want "hugs or lessons." But I do want entertainment, and any football supporter who states otherwise is deluding themselves.

30 comments:

beserkr29 said...

Good post. As one of the American heathens who enjoys the "Simplest Game" AND all of the other sporting endeavors put forth by the NFL, NHL, etc., it's gratifying to see that someone else saw something wrong with the Final. I like soccer's free-flowing, intensely creative nature. It ebbs and flows in a way most American sports simply can't, by virtue of their rules/nature. But I like entertaining matches a la Germany's 3-2 squeaker over Uruguay, more than the 1-0 abomination that was the Final. Why? It was entertaining. Thanks for pointing out that enjoying a match doesn't ruin the game.

Brian said...

Richard, do you have a sense that soccer puritanism is getting more fashionable? I can't quite put my finger on it, but I thought I detected some sort of drift during the World Cup --- where it used to be the hip thing for knowledgeable soccer folk to quote Eduardo Galeano, suddenly it seemed cooler to quote a stat, or defend Dunga.

I started to write a post that opened "This was the World Cup when style stopped being stylish," but I changed my mind, because I'm not sure if this is actually happening or if it's just that the World Cup is so huge that the opinions it brings out temporarily dwarf all previous consensus.

Richard Whittall said...

I think Amy Lawrence summed up the growing sentiment in football circles, which is "1970 was then, this is now, let's just let finals be terrible and football overly cautious and negative because that's just how it is today...let's feel happy for Spain." It's a "we give up" sort of thing. Better entertainment to look at the tactical report afterward and piece together why x fullback snuffed out y winger.

I think in order to come to terms with the grim status quo, we've all deferred to this myth of tactical absolutism, that players on a football pitch are like bits of matter/anti-matter rather than individually creative players. I think for a number of different factors—fear of conceding, the belief that penalties are balanced toward inferior sides—the importance of goals has been lost.

Football is a game of a million incidental moments, and goals radically reduce their impact in a game, as Frank Lampard could attest. That's why goals are great. That isn't being naive, that's been the basis of football for years. Perhaps it's the nature of the modern game—pressing, penalties a.e.t., the lack of cohesion of national sides—that that's changed. I think what's more recent or fashionable is the view that the change is inevitable, part of watching football. It's revisionist.

That's why I think Germany's performance was met with such incredulity, a side that made up for big problems in defensive by a attacking sides with singular abandon. They beat Argentina 4-0 in one of the best international games I've seen in years. The irony was when Germany met Spain, like Holland in the final, they bought into what the Guardian called the "tiki taka Taliban," tried a very tenuous, deep defending long-ball approach, and in the end lost because they believed they had to be "pragmatic" rather than "positive."

You can talk about tactics, but I didn't see it as Spanish possession putting Germany off their game. Germany couldn't really even complete a simple pass a lot of the time. I honestly think Germany bit it because they realized they were in a World Cup semifinal. The lights were on, the trophy a game away. Jogi Loew's sycophantic praise for Spain afterward didn't match reality. I think everyone saw little Switzerland drop deep and score a monstrously stupid goal and so the rest thought "with Spain, this is the only way."

Holland bought the same myth, but De Jong and van Bommel wouldn't have been the centre of attention had Holland actually tried to attack. It could have been the Brazil game all over again, but instead you had Robben moving all around by himself in the Spanish half. It was inexcusable, the Dutch negativity. Mostly for their fans.

And I'm not conflating defense with negativity, which is why I don't hate Mourinho's Inter. There's a difference. But don't tell me the Dutch "did what needed to be done to win in all possible worlds." If de Jong had been sent off for hacking Alonso, what would have we have made of the "Dutch resolve" if they'd gone to ten men in the first half? Football is a lot simpler sometimes than we give it credit for.

roswitha said...

I love your writing, but I'm bemused at the charge of puritanism being laid at the door of people for whom 'entertainment' might just constitute a different idea. I sense you're writing into an argument that I, as a non-American fan, am not part of, so I'm sorry if I'm obscuring your original point in any way. But the idea that a tactical deconstruction (to use the example in your post) cannot be concurrent with enjoying a football game, is a sort of puritanism in itself. Gianni Brera would be shocked.

Richard Whittall said...

Hey ros!

I didn't mean to give the impression that tactical analysis isn't an enormous part the enjoyment of football, I just think the problem arises when it transforms into a form of hermeneutics, something completely separate from the lived experience of a game.

To me it's like the fascinating beauty of a contemporary music score, with its idiosyncratic markings, bizarre notation, lovely split of systems on the page. But if the end product is a sonic mess, it's all for naught.

Tactical analysis has always sorted of acted like sheet music to me; it's fun to look at Brahms second symphony afterward to see what he did there, but you don't hold it on par with the lived experience of listening to the Brahms 2nd symphony. Also as important, you couldn't have one without the other...

soccer jersey said...

great post!!

GSPegger said...

I have just discovered your blog via the Score's Footy Blog, and I think you have got a new loyal reader.

What suggestions would you have to encourage more positive play?

Personally, I think that a 0-0 should be awarded 0 points. A scoring draw would still receive 1 point. Too often these days, teams seem to put 10 behind the ball and hope to hold on for a point. Perhaps the fact that no goals ensures no points would help encourage attacking football.

I also think sudden death or golden goal extra time should be given another chance. As you say, too many inferior teams play for penalties. For the soccer puritans as you call them, I would be quite happy to keep 30 minutes of guaranteed extra time (perhaps with no end change after 15 minutes). If the teams are still drawn at that time, switch to sudden death, perhaps with additional substitutions allowed.

George said...

It is utter wank to define this argument as American vs European, the vast majority of European football fans prefer watching attractive football and this 'Euro puritan' who you argue with is at best a tiny minority of pompous bloggers or at worst a strawman of your own creation.

Rafa said...

I thought your post was interesting, but also thought it was a little strange the way you talked about these issues like they were something new, overlooked ideas you were shining a brand new light upon, and not things people have been discussing around the world since the late 70's.

Dr3 said...

the reality is, in as much as you may believe that it's the entertainment value that "fans" want/or even deserve (entitlement? really?), it's winning that 'matters'. It's noble to win with your philosophy. But football isn't about outscoring your opponent (a la galacticos) as you put it, it's about winning.period.yes that means scoring more..but it doesn't say keep scoring. it's sad, but it's the reality that with more exposure, and more flashing lights, it's more important to win with a syringe still inserted, than to lose with dignity.

Anonymous said...

Is winning entertainment? I think it is a form of entertainment. Maybe it is a form of entertainment that doesn't engage neutrals as much as it does followers of the respective teams.

For a neutral, the Paraguay vs Japan tie must have been awful - two teams making sure they couldn't be broken down, making sure they didn't lose the game in regular or extra time; but as someone who lives in Japan and wants to see the Japanese national team do well, it was enthralling.

Clayton

Anonymous said...

Utter tripe written by an articulate arriviste. Football puritanism is grounded in community - something alien to a nation whose sporting history is entirely at the mercy of capital in the form of the franchise system.

Please, stop watching football. Or, at least, turn your talents as a writer to better use, maybe suggesting innovative reforms to one of those soulless, identity-less sports you and the Canadians get off on.

Richard Whittall said...

Last commenter: your patronization of the franchise system, as if club hockey has no cultural roots in this country, betrays a British sporting arrogance. Does Chelsea vs. Manchester United SkySports Super Sunday, which garners sky high domestic ratings in the UK, an example of how football is "grounded in community?" How about the cell-phone organized fisticuffs for Millwall games?

Anonymous said...

Effectively, you're just advocating greater commercialisation. You wring your hands and chomp your jaws trying to look liberal, trying to look like you care, but really you're alienated from the sport you love and you want others to share in your alienation.

"It's the way of the world, and, besides, everyone is corrupt": these are the basic tenets of an article in a blog called 'A More Splendid Life'.

The entire piece is an apology for a guilty conscience. You don't like boring matches because you pay for subscriptions to PPV channels to watch them.

Football matches are live events first and foremost, not television events: a discrepancy of numbers changes nothing, it merely refers to the expertise with which broadcast media has hijacked a love of the game.

"The sin of entertainment": the greatest sin, for you, is the joy that comes only from relief when cast against the shadows of a tedious nil-nil on the horizon and a misspent afternoon. The joy that comes from magic on the wings, wrestled from an hour of stultifying midfield scrimmaging.

If a game is boring, you just change the channel. You have no right to talk about entertainment in football, nor any authority to discuss the puritanism of supporters who attend matches.

Only wrestlers treat sport as entertainment. Football is not entertainment. Your inability to make that distinction is appalling, and a measure of the extent to which your interest and understanding of the game of football is mediated by television.

Richard Whittall said...

Again, there's the assumption that, because I live in Canada, therefore I don't know anything about watching live football. Forget TFC, what of Varsity stadium WCQs for years and years, the Lynx, the CSL, the Blizzard, Metro Croatia, Toronto City, Toronto Ulster United...live soccer in Canada is not a novelty. To preach to me about televised soccer is arrogance in the extreme.

And spare me the dime store psychology. I would recommend anyone who thinks they are somehow dodging the corporatist "infiltration" by pushing the community cred of the holy game of soccer should have a gander at Plenderleith's latest in WSC.
You're peddling the same line as FIFA, and Coca Cola.

I also pointed out in the comments I don't consider defensive parlays to be boring. I do consider shit, foul-ridden, long-ball out to touch, no shots on goal football to be the last bastion of footballing scoundrels.

Irish Berliner said...

Thank God. A voice of reason. Excellent post.
Be warned however. Anyone who dares question football for its entertainment value is considered a heathen or, at the very least, an uneducated novice who doesn't know as much about the game as 'real fans' who do.

Anonymous said...

Referring me to Plenderleith is cowardice masquerading as careerism. Why drag the WSC writer who reviews blogs into this?

Oh, of course. He reviews blogs.

Besides, I'm a subscriber to WSC. That's right, I too have read the widely available article which you refer me to as a substitute for defending your own position. And yet you find it in yourself to dismiss me as 'arrogant'?

Does Ian advocate greater commercialism? No. That, however, doesn't make you any less prepared to seize upon his criticisms of the jumped-up fireworks advert that is the World Cup and use them to your own ill-informed ends.

You advocate greater commercialism of the game and yet descry FIFA in the same article. You say I am peddling the FIFA line, yet you show no understanding of the inner workings of FIFA, nor of the discrepancy between FIFA's hyperbole (crude ideology) and FIFA's practice. Given that you claim to be inspired by Glanville, that is disappointing to say the least.

My charge - that you find "football puritans" such a dubious prospect because they clash so starkly with your own agnosticism - remains unanswered. Besides, if you were more canny in exploiting your obvious confusion you could use it as your USP. Then you'd have some copy worth selling.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post Mr Whittall,

I'd just like to throw in my two cents, if you don't mind.

I accept that there are a lot of 'soccer puritans', and I also accept that, as a non-European, a lot of it must seen incredibly patronising. And to be fair - a lot of it simply is patronising...

As an English football fan though, I do see a certain amount of sense in some of it, mainly with regard to the Spanish team. While Spain won the majority of their games 1-0, I found some of their games hugely entertaining - if only because I am not used to seeing that level of skill, control, passing, on display. Watching England was a hideous experience at this world cup - and yet those players all play with a fair degree of success in the Premier League, week in, week out - a league which is (generally) praised for producing 'entertaining' football.

It's difficult to put simply, but I worry that if we all scream for 'entertaining' football, then the Premier League will continue to oblige - all the while turning out English players who are seemingly incapable of passing the ball on the world's largest stage. I'd rather (English) fans learnt to appreciate Spain's patient, skill-based play, which in turn would encourage the English players to focus more on the basics of the game which our continental cousins can do so much better.

Hope this makes some kind of sense...

Richard Whittall said...

Did I advocate "greater commercialism?" No, I wrote that the entire commercial enterprise exists in football because it is hinged on the idea that fans enjoy watching football, because they find it entertaining, and no, that's not the end of the world, although there are clear instances when commercial demands negatively impact the quality of play (see Champions League group stages).

In these matters, I generally disagree with Don Revie and agree with Tele Santana (who also incidentally promoted the importance of fair play). I choose Real Madrid in the late sixties, Ajax in the early seventies, AC Milan in the late eighties. Even 1960s Inter only generally used what's widely recognized as catenaccio to win games away in Europe. At home they could batter teams offensively.

As for the Premier League, I guess it depends on what you find entertaining. I tend to find a tactically coherent, skill-based style of play entertaining, which is why even when Spain plays badly, which they did in large swaths over the last World Cup, they're still great to watch. The Premier League, as capable of it is in producing some absolute gems, also puts out a fair amount of complete, fouled up duds (Bolton v. Blackburn anyone?).

All I'm saying is, let's not idolize ugly football in the name of "community." Let's not overly romanticize the game so that what happens on the pitch is a mere symbolic ritual for the fans gathered off it. Let's not have a situation where only the "dedicated, TRUE supporters" own soccer, while the rest have to linger outside the caliphate, dirtied by their own unworthiness as seekers of exciting play. Let's not be pretentious about a sport that has long attracted passers-by dazzled by all that movement, all that exuberance, hell, all that fun.

Did anyone notice Chile smiled while they played? When's the last time you saw a player smile during a match outside of Ronaldinho?

Richard Whittall said...

That should read Real Madrid in the late 50s, before you get out your pedant stick again.

Anonymous said...

_APOLOGY OF SORTS_

I can't condone a coalition of the cynical. Nonetheless, in the interests of my own health, I'm going to stop dealing out aggravation. Having read the rest of your blog, I know I'm going to come back here to read what you have to say and feel quite bad being such a hard taskmaster.

Nonetheless, I defend football's right to make claims for itself that are unavailable to other sports. I reject the idea that football is entertainment.

If that makes me a football puritan, so be it.

The key question about puritanism is not about the content of this or that match, but the mode of its consumption.

If football puritanism became more conspicuous as the World Cup went on, it was because too many voices complained too loudly about trivial incidents that make up any game of football - in a park or in a professional league. The abuse of Suarez, for example, only became novel when it supped from the same spring as reformist ideas about video replay evidence.

Too often these voices were those of upstart JCLs who merely demand to be entertained, without understanding anything of - yes I am going to say it - the way the game is played.

Personally, I find ice hockey's insistence on using sticks to hit a tiny object on a frozen surface ridiculous but should I ever get drawn into an NHL game, I won't start shouting the odds about how to make the game better/more entertaining: the stereotypical American-in-a-hotel approach to sports consumption.

I don't think football resembles life, nor do I think it is entertainment - though it is consumed as such. There is a certain cut-off point where a sport must be a sport - a game governed by rules. These rules are not there to ensure justice, or any ad notion of 'fair play', they are there merely to ensure the game remains the game.

Football puritanism takes on a metaphysical/moral aspect when it starts making moral arguments against reform. If I am a football puritan it is because I believe football is in no need of reform; and it is, above all, a game that exists outside of any particular (professional or amateur) incarnation.

Anonymous said...

* that should read that "the professional game is consumed as such".

Anonymous said...

Personally, I believe that the idea that you call puritanism is - at least to my mind - essentially a recognition from a spectator's point of view that each team does what it needs to in order to win. In that sense, I am puritanic. I appreciate Bolton's need to heave balls up front as their best option to win. And I'd like others to do so as well. It may not be the most pleasing on the eye, but it gets the job done - which is what football is about.

On a related issue, therefore, I believe that puritanism encourages one to pick sides, and discourages neutrality.

Jack said...

"World Cup advancing teams get player bonuses, paid not in glory but in Euros."
I don't think that's fair. The World Cup bonuses are a pittance compared to top players earn in wages and sponsorship. Fabio Quagliarella's tears of sorrow and Iker Casillas' tears or joy were hardly related to money.
Otherwise good article.

Anonymous said...

just one simple question: do you actually play the game?

Richard Whittall said...

Yep. Full back, not very good.

Sean said...

I don't agree with most of the article, apart from a few tenuous points. Yes there are a small number of noxious Brits who think they have a special insight into football, but the idea that "entertaining football" has only been around since the '70's is absurd.
Before the TV deals, the pay-per-view etc, the main stream of income was from matchday attendance - bums on seats. The average person used to go to a football game as an alternative to the fair, the park, or to a picnic.
To take your analogy, yes, there are some puritans, but puritanism is never mainstream. Moderation always triumps extremism in terms of real numbers, and that's what puts cash in hand 100 years ago as it does today. Real Madrid were set up for the sole purpose of playing "Entertaining Football" - they didn't even bother playing in Spanish leagues at the beginning.

Also, I think your slant that N. America will somehow "save" soccer is naive, facile and deluded. If anything, the over-commercialization of this World Cup was sick when you consider the minimal contributions any of the sponsors or FIFA will make towards the 6 Billion Dollars S. Africa threw at the WC. This is the second biggest story of the world cup, oddly enough, not much reported on CNN or Fox News.

Ken said...

It appears we are mostly going around in circles, so let’s be clear about what has changed since 1970: Why is it that nearly everyone agrees that what Brazil accomplished cannot be repeated? The biggest change is not that teams play more defensively or are more results oriented. Both Italy and Uruguay adopted extreme measures while advancing deep into that tournament. The biggest difference is that players are far more fit and that tactical systems are far more rigid. The two go hand and hand. Brazil’s players made tactical adjustments during matches, most notably in the semifinal against Uruguay when Chlodoaldo and Gerson switched roles because the latter was being man-marked so tightly. But they did not have a rigid system, which is why West Germany manager Helmut Schön claimed they were not the best team in Mexico, just “a marvelous collection of individuals.”

Schön’s comment still begs the question, however: Why is it that a collection of individuals could succeed forty years ago—overcoming the rigid systems used by the English, the Uruguayans, and the Italians—but would almost certainly fail today. The answer is the increased level of fitness. The average player ran five kilometers per match in the 1970 World Cup, but that number more than doubled within 20 years. Players also sprint far more often. To be more specific, according to ProZone, the average player ran 10.2 kilometers per match in the EPL in the 2004/5 season. And the number of times players on a team run ‘flat out’ increased by phenomenal 243 percent during a three-year period (through 2004/5), from 136 times per team to 331. The average player sprinted 7.36 km per match (I would be willing to bet workrate has continued to increase, but I have not seen any newer figures).

The dramatic difference in these numbers overstates the point slightly. The heat and altitude in Mexico is far more taxing than the conditions in England, or South Africa. But this large increase in fitness and stamina has helped contribute to a huge tactical revolution. Understandably, coaches have taken full advantage of the fact that players are bigger, stronger, faster, and have more stamina. There is more pressure and far less space. The upshot of this is that skillful players struggle to assert themselves when pitted against well organized, unrelenting athletic units. Gerson may be the best passer to ever grace a field, but he would struggle to find time today, especially since he reputedly smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.

If this is correct, we should really be asking a different question: what kind of balance do we want to strike between skillful expression, on the one hand, and athletic assertion on the other. Teams are always going to play to win, but do we want a game where the Gersons and Chlodoaldos prosper in the center of midfield or one where the Gilberto Silvas and Melos do?

The answer seems obvious to me. This is not about European tradition versus North American consumer-oriented entertainment. The group you named the Puritans seems to be of the belief that the evolution of the sport should be left more or less unchecked by rule makers and that aesthetic concerns—which is not the same thing as entertainment—are entirely beside the point. Maybe I am missing something, but I would much rather watch Brazil of ’70 than the post-1986 vintages of the seleção.

Peace, Bread, Land said...

Hi Richard

With the utmost respect, I think that your piece betrays a total lack of understanding of what football is. You are talking about the top 1% of football that is played and televised, and even then, only in the last few years. That is not the sum total of the sport. It's actually the minority. 99% of football is and has been played, watched and obsessed over, far away from the gazes of worldwide television audiences. That 99% plus the 1% that you talk of make up football.

You also seem to present an argument where the Puritan's who see much more into the game must be pitted against the realists like you who just see the 1% for what it is - a game, entertainment, etc etc. Well, actually for many football IS entertainment AND football IS a way of life. They are not mutually exclusive.

You also talk a little of technology. I can almost guarantee that Sepp Blatter is pretty much the only person who thinks something like goal line technology is not needed, and he is not football. He is a monster. I would guess that 99% of football fans would all agree that something should be done.

Football is The Beautiful Game because every aspect of it throws up a thousand different emotions and opinions. It does grip nations and peoples like no other sport. It is on a level above any other sport. It was this way before it was ever televised to today's extent. All of that doesn't mean it's not entertainment. It is, only its entertainment and then some. For you, maybe, its just the former. For me, maybe it is a way of life. Vive la difference.

I don't think you need to write a piece that says I am wrong. Football to me is what I feel it is. Just because it's something different to you makes neither of our positions invalid.

Anonymous said...

The key is to look at what you call 'entertaining'. Entertainment, like quality, or beauty, is neither inherent in a thing, nor simply a figment of your mind - it describes your relationship to something else.

It follows that you can make football 'more entertaining' in two ways - changing the football, or changing yourself.

And I think this is the divide that you percieve - the puritans, as you call them, argue that if you found the final boring it's because you're looking at it the wrong way.

If someone chooses to be entertained only by goals and shots on target they should at least have the self-awareness to see that their disappointment at a 'boring game' is a product of both the game they watched AND themselves.

The puritans implicitly understand that football is as much about them as the game they watch. Those who just want to consume, with as little effort as possible, are the ones who end up disappointed.