Dubbed "The beautiful game", the world's favorite sport has seen it's fair share of ugliness. From hooliganism and racism to dirty tactics and match-fixing. One may also consider the kits worn to be just as "ugly". Players, especially those of continental origins, have taken to wearing accessories such as gloves and the widely frowned upon "snoods". When you consider that years ago teams would play in just shorts and t-shirts, whilst having to endure conditions that could be described in today's game as "unplayable", you really do see how the game has changed.
Has it evolved? Maybe, maybe not. What someone from the '60's to '90's era might class as "stupid" or "over the top", someone else may look at as "decent" or "fashionable".
For example. In the past professional football managers have been known to dislike what some might consider to be "flamboyant" footwear. It is said that it is down to the lightness of and/or lack of protective material used in "modern-era" boots. One manager has said in the past he took slight pleasure when one of his players received a knock in training because they thought it might scare them into wearing a safer pair of boots. Others coaches have even banned their youth players from wearing non-black boots and that coloured boots were only allowed as a "reward" if they made the grade to the first team (either that or they just don't like bright footwear, their prerogative).
But it's not just the kit that's changed. Playing styles in general have changed over the years. "Free-style" football has made it onto pitches with tricks and skills being employed to beat the opposition (or maybe just to look good, could be both). The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, etc, have all been know to use any number of nutmegs, rabonas, stepovers and so forth to get one over on their counterparts. It's all well and good if it's honest and in the good name of sport, as, lets face it, who wouldn't want their team's best stiker to nutmeg a rival defender and then coolly score the winning goal with a cheeky back heel? I know I would.
However, there is a bad side to all this trickery. Some say the biggest and worse con of all is diving. Seen by many people as something mainly used by continental players, the use of diving as a tactic to win free-kicks, penalties or even to just get a rival player in trouble has been universally frowned upon by by the football world. Another skill that has since seemingly had it's nose turned up at it is tackling. Tacking has been labelled as an "art", especially pre 21st century. When years ago if you made a tough challenge to win the ball (possibly using two feet with studs showing) you might be cheered by the crowd, get a handshake of respect off said opponent and maybe even a new contract for showing your dedication to the cause! Nowadays you might get booed by the crowd, your opponent will roll around in "agony" as though they've just been shot and get a straight red card from the ref along with a ten game ban!
The playing styles of teams has also changed. From the "hoofball" tactics one club might deploy from years gone by, to the "samba style" or "tiki-taka" that is being almost universally praised and used by all of football's top clubs and has found a re-emergence since the world famous Brazil of the '70's. Formations have also changed as some teams have tended to favour the "false no.9" in their tactics rather than having the "target man" approach to their game.
But the biggest change in football history, which has shaken it to it's core, is the introduction of money. Sponsorship, inflated ticket prices, billionaire ownership, media exposure. You name it, money is behind it. Where years ago footballers where almost on the same fitness levels as pub players and fans only lived around the corner from their teams ground as well as being able to buy refreshments with pocket money, you now have players who are almost bionic in athleticism, fans that have moved miles away from the local stadium or even emigrated and you have to spend a months wages just to get to the game and back. From a time when the best player in England traveled to training and games in an old banger, to now when you have the bench warmer earning ?50k and week driving off in their new sports car while wearing designer sunglasses so they don't have to wave goodbye or even sign the odd autograph for their adoring fans (do I sound bitter?).
Although there is the bad side to money, there is also the good side. You can now watch any number of sports coverage wherever and whenever you like. Getting the latest news on your team has never been easier and is all available to you at your finger tips. For some it can also be a lifeline. For the elderly or disabled fan who just can't make the journey, they can watch till their heart's content in the comfort of their own home.
Whether controversial, awe inspiring or just plain good fun, football will always change and will no doubt continue to have it's ever growing fanbase all across the globe, and long may it continue!