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'The rush home after school to read Ceefax pages 302–312... This was my generation’s internet'

In an extract from his book, Daniel Geey looks at how football has changed dramatically over the years.

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from ‘Done Deal’ by Daniel Geey.

How we consume football has changed dramatically over the years. When I was growing up in the 1980s, watching live football was a novelty. Only the occasional game was broadcast on television and, in contrast to today, few column inches were devoted to football.

This meant that the local newspapers such as the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post were my main source of information – two pages on a normal day and a few extra on match and post-match days – and I devoured every bit of football news I could.

Transfer gossip was very much in its infancy. Then came Ceefax, a television text information service, and suddenly there were up to 10 pages of football information per day on TV.

The traditional rush home after school to grab the remote control, read Ceefax pages 302–312 and discover that Liverpool were linked to a particular player and how much he was going to cost was a revelation. Coming home to the news that Roy Keane had signed for Manchester United was a particularly dark day. This was my generation’s internet, the first baby steps into the digital era.

By then, the World Cup was also very much front and centre. Discovering new players and their skills at major tournaments was an eye-opener and made me aware of a wider world of football, featuring exotic players and leagues.

By the time I was going to most Liverpool home games, the novel way of getting the best transfer gossip was through premium-rate phone numbers. No doubt prompted by the small fortune these lines were costing, my Dad became an early adopter and signed up to one of the first forms of the internet. Rather slow and making strange noises, the modem offered a constantly updated dose of football news and discussion forums.

Football became all-encompassing. During family dinners it was the glue of our conversation; Mum (and sometimes Dad!) spoke the most sense. We debated tactics, managers, personalities, games, rivals and history.

Then I attended university, and moved on to getting my daily fix from football news aggregator NewsNow. I even had the opportunity to write a dissertation on the changing FIFA transfer system and a journeyman footballer called Jean-Marc Bosman. This was the first indication that I could combine my two passions: football and law.

I soon found myself in an enviable position. Rather than just consuming football (which by now had become a major component of the global entertainment industry), I was able to offer my own perspective on football, blogging on issues and in turn amplifying my thoughts through a variety of retweets, internet searches, and Facebook and Instagram posts.

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Since becoming a lawyer, I’ve been privileged to have worked on a number of high-profile football takeovers, transfers and disputes, meeting some fantastic people in the industry. The life of a football lawyer is, however, rarely glamorous. Deals may be finalised and photographed in the boardroom, but the nuts and bolts and the details are negotiated on WhatsApp, after mountains of emails, sometimes in the early hours of the morning and after 40 calls to your client each day. I’ve had moments when I’ve helped a client negotiate a transfer while picking my kids up from school, or I have been on holiday and ended up working because the deal has been agreed in principle and the player was flying in the next morning. I’ve helped with deals on the beach, in the snow, on boats, and (losing signal) up mountains. Seldom are negotiations straightforward, as some may presume. But with email and smartphones readily available, there are rarely barriers to finalising a deal.

Nonetheless, what continues to strike me is the somewhat fragile nature of the industry. Players are a bad knee twist or a tackle away from the end of their careers, or a tweet away from a ban; managers are sometimes just a few games away from the sack; agents are continually worried about losing their star players, sometimes having invested years of hard work for no reward; and owners, who may have saved their boyhood club from bankruptcy, are often castigated when results suffer.

Promotion, relegation, last-minute winners, missed play-off final and World Cup penalties, injuries, rehabilitation, contract renegotiations, player transfer requests and clubs forcing players out – these are the everyday actions that define the football industry. There is no black and white. What is important is context and nuance.

Why a story has been written is as important as what the story says. Everyone has an angle, from the player’s agent wanting to negotiate a new and more valuable contract to the club wanting to manage the fans’ expectations. The volume of content, articles, website reports, etc. can be bewildering, and is creating a broader content business that is changing the face of football, sport and entertainment.

The exponential growth in entertainment available from Netflix, YouTube or Sky Sports means there is more content vying for people’s attention. No longer is sport as front and centre as it used to be. Binge on your favourite series, subscribe to your go-to YouTube vlogger and catch highlights of the live game if you’ve missed it.

There is so much competition in the entertainment space that even when people are watching 90 minutes live, most are usually second-screening (using a second device to connect on WhatsApp or checking Twitter or Snapchat). Attention spans are reducing and consumption habits are fundamentally changing. Football isn’t so scarce anymore and an almost infinite amount of entertainment content is readily available. Competition for viewers is stronger than ever.

The football spotlight remains incredibly strong. Some fans expect football players to be angels with perfect behaviour. Everyone is fallible, players included. Mistakes happen – and will continue to happen. When looking at the headlines, it’s crucial to reflect that players, managers, owners and agents are a mistake, an injury and/or a press conference away from triumph and disaster. Football is particularly unforgiving, and a Twitter timeline after a team’s defeat even more so. Any positive is usually drowned out by negativity. Context is important and is easily forgotten. Drama and controversy play out on a weekly basis.

Fans are no doubt the centrepiece for this beautiful game, but now more than ever it’s vital to look behind the headlines and understand how the industry really works. This book aims to provide some context and nuance, as well as practical experience – from pitch to boardroom – of the off-field football matters that impact leagues, clubs, players and fans, and which shape the modern game.

Done Deal: An Insider’s Guide to Football Contracts, Multi-Million Pound Transfers and Premier League Big Business by Daniel Geey is published by Bloomsbury Sport. More info here.

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