This weeks RAW saw a more restrained approach to the ‘Yes Movement’, an anti establishment revolt against the WWE by their fans, as we approach this years historical Wrestlemania 30. The revolution and fans attachment to Daniel Bryan is proving to be lightning in a bottle for the WWE as it marches towards its equivalent of the Superbowl and has become the saving grace to an otherwise lacklustre build up. The ‘Yes Movement’ represented the fans desire for change from the company they loved and a need to be recognised and acknowledged by them in the product. Within the Daniel Bryan storyline it has transitioned perfectly from the real life ‘us vs them’ mentality into Bryan and the fans vs HHH and the WWE. It’s a very thin line though as WWE walks along the tightrope of using fans genuine disengagement with its product as a storyline. Beginning as little nods to the language of fans WWE were able to invest its audience but now all of a sudden the WWE have all the subtlety of a bulldozer and threaten to kill all the momentum of the YES Movement as they manipulate it into the YES brand.
It was a welcomed change in Brooklyn to see a more subdued push of the Yes Movement on its fans because what started with a resounding and vigorous YES is slowly corroding into an empathic ‘Meh’ as WWE heavy handedly and unsubtly try and monetise it.
As a consequence of the Yes movement fans created ‘Hijack Raw’, an organised petition trying to vocalise their detachment to the product and influence Raw in Chicago and Wrestlemania by mostly cheering for Bryan and chanting for Cm Punk. Something not so subtly acknowledged by Daniel Bryan and the WWE in Chicago and then acted out in a horribly unsubtle way in Memphis one week later as fans wearing Daniel Bryan t-shirts flooded the ring and literally hijacked the program. The fact that the fans were all wearing brand new yes-movement themed t-shirts with Daniel Bryan’s face made up as Che Guevara’s just fueled the disingenuous and over produced nature of the segment. The off screen Hijack Raw idea and Yes movement has been built by years of frustration from fans at the product that the WWE were presenting them. The concept for both is rather simple, to get the WWE to listen to their fan base and produce a product that they wanted to see, something not conveyed in Memphis or the on screen Yes Movement.
At its core it is not about pushing the fan favourites or giving certain wrestlers wins or losses but rather acknowledging that the fans exist and have supported the company to the heights it now enjoys. It’s about no longer accepting the WWE treating it’s fans as mindless zealots and telling its audience who to cheer and who to boo. And while although explained aloud both Hijack Raw and the Yes Movement sound almost comical when talking about a fictional fighting organisation the WWE’s attempt to capitalise financially off of both is coming off as rather insulting and wearing away at what made them engaging in the first place. Fans were livid and took it personally when the WWE seemingly disregarded them after they attached themselves to Daniel Bryan. They felt disenfranchised by the company after years of being fed the same characters and an exhaustion of the same storylines and wrestling tropes.
In Memphis fans seemingly got what they had been protesting for as Daniel Bryan had indeed been inserted into the main event of Wrestemania, that is if he manages to defeat HHH earlier in the night. An act out of necessity more than anything else by the WWE but one that is directly linked to the off screen Yes Movement and was a specific objective of the Hijack Raw petition. As the fans piled into the ring and HHH and Stephanie McMahon looked on helplessly while Bryan demanded his insertion into the main event it lacked all the fire and intensity the Yes Movement had gathered to that point off screen. The segment didn’t look like a simple integration of the off screen storyline playing out on screen or a nod to the actual acceptance by the off screen authority that they had been taken to task by their audience. It looked like WWE’s desperate attempt to build towards a big Wrestlemania chant, that would of happened organically anyway, and sell some t-shirts. Nothing about the segment in Memphis felt organic or real.
The Yes Movement was a natural progression that snowballed organically and created a mega star in Daniel Bryan. At one stage we considered that the WWE may have been playing puppet master behind the scenes the entire time, the all knowing WWE always in control and always with a plan. Which was a fun idea and is still completely plausible when you think about and all the subtle nods in the build up. However, since the decision was obviously made to focus Wrestlemania around Bryan it has shown that WWE is perhaps not capable of subtlety or anything rather than full steam ahead. Ever since the WWE abandoned Batista as a good guy everything around Bryan, the Yes Movement and Hijack Raw has felt just so forced and manufactured, so WWE.
That is not to say that it hasn’t been successful because the WWE have been able to masterfully turn their off screen anarchy into a storyline and integrated it seamlessly into the Daniel Bryan narrative arc. What’s more is it has turned the HHH v Bryan Wrestlemania encounter from something the fans didn’t particularly care about into the hottest match on the card by far.Adding the language ‘hijack’ and ‘yes movement’ to the storyline has turned the match into Daniel Bryan and the fans vs HHH and the company which could have been the biggest match the event had seen for the last few years. Adding Bryan into the title match has in many ways devalued the potential to a much bigger match in HHH v Bryan but has been done so seemingly out of desperation to save the otherwise redundant main event. The point is that the more we get this forceful ‘inside’ language and phoney segments the more WWE threaten to devalue their hot property as they reprogram it.
Because the irony is not lost on fans, especially when it is presented in such a condescending and manufactured way. The Yes Movement is now officially the Yes Brand, it’s now completely owned by the WWE, not Daniel Bryan. The WWE have their audience doing exactly what they want after hijacking the revolution and what they want is fans thinking they have beaten the machine. Which is great! and one of the best wrestling storylines in recent memory, it writes itself, but the problem is that the way it’s being presented has been so heavy handed we as an audience are being reminded about why the Yes Movement began in the first place, because fans were tired of being treated like they are stupid. Yet the audience are being beaten over the head with the fact that their cause has been copyrighted and put on a t-shirt, one that comes with a free #YesMovement sticker no less, and you have to wonder how long the corporate Yes brand will be fun and perhaps how long it will take before fans turn on it. You also have to wonder if Daniel Bryan will continue to be as popular now it is clear that WWE want us to cheer for him because even the biggest Bryan supporter will tell you that some of his appeal was that the WWE seemingly didn’t want us to cheer him.
Daniel Bryan, wrestling’s 2014 anti establishment personified, would be the biggest casualty if fans did begin to reject the corporate makeover of the Yes Movement. For the moment it seems to be having no adverse effects, even as Bryan shills out things that make me nauseous like “Lets hijack Raw!” and “You don’t own this ring HHH! These people do!” the audience appear to still be eating it up. It’s a fine line though and as much as I enjoy the ‘Internet persona HHH’ character we are currently getting on television who plans to, as he said on Smackdown, “bury” Daniel Bryan the more he and the WWE push the Yes Movement, Hijack Raw, Occupy and hashtags of all three on to us the more yes just feels like meh.
The more WWE tells us to do something the more we don’t want to do it and the less fun it seems, it was the reason the Yes Movement picked up steam in the first place. Fans hated the fact that Batista was brought in to main event Wrestlemania without being tested in front of the audience first. WWE told its audience that not only was Batista the guy that would face Orton for the championship but that he was the number one good guy, and fans wholeheartedly rejected it. Something that could just as easily happen to Daniel Bryan if the WWE continue to encourage the phoney corporate Yes Movement so forcibly and drain the life force from him.
So it is thankful that in San Antonio during the final segment of last weeks Raw that HHH and Daniel Bryan finally brought some real intensity and fire in to their feud. Although there was still some nods to the Yes Movement HHH only touched on it briefly and then really breathed some life into not only his character but also Daniel Bryans. When used as the backdrop in this way the WWE can hope to maintain the same passion that fans have had for Daniel Bryan leading up to this. This segment was all about the bad guy using nefarious tactics to one up the good guy and in this case HHH gave Bryan the type of brutal beating the underdog needed leading up to Wrestlemania. All of the condescending nods to the Yes Movement, the merchandise and the hashtags were gone and in their place was simple wrestling, just the number one bad guy destroying the number one good guy. It was great and the fans were incensed as HHH killed a handcuffed Daniel Bryan while Stephanie McMahon screeched from ring side. Exactly the kind of segment the WWE needed to do if it hopes for the Yes Movement to survive and exactly what the build to Wrestlemania needed.
So without really even realising it fans have transitioned from the Yes Movement to the WWE Yes brand rather seamlessly. The anti WWE movement has ironically become a pro WWE story of their ability to use and manipulate their fans. And while the Raw in San Antonio has gone along way to salvage the corporate yes movement the WWE have run the risk of killing their audiences passion for it by encouraging it so vehemently. This week we saw a much welcomed step back from the Yes Movement push, perhaps an acknowledgment by the WWE that they need to let it evolve organically as the backdrop to HHH vs Bryan.
The only thing that will stop the 80,000 strong Mania crowd chanting for Bryan is the WWE encouraging the chant too much. Fans want to chant because the WWE don’t want them to not because they fake don’t want them to. This is the best thing the WWE have had for awhile, so much so I can genuinely see the match between HHH and Bryan ending in a draw eventuating in HHH winning the world title in a 4 way at the main event of Wrestlemania. The crowd at mania and then the next night at Raw would be at riot level and the WWE could still get there giant Yes chant earlier in the night. But then the happy ending and logical conclusion for Bryan might be too good to pass up. In any case the WWE have lightning in a bottle, all they have to do is not mess it up.
Less condescension and inside nods and more genuine anti establishment us vs them.
Less meh and more Yes!
The Sad Demise of Bolton Wanderers Football Club
It is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton Wanderers find themselves in
If you watched the English Premier League during the early 2000s, you would have been familiar with the plight of Bolton Wanderers. The long running club is now in absolute dire straits, bereft of resources, searching desperately for new owners as it staves away its seemingly inevitable end. It is truly a sad turn of events for a club that has been around for almost 150 years, once known as the plucky, never-die team of English football’s top flight.
The Greater Manchester club, gleefully nicknamed ‘The Trotters’, were always a group of ragtag underachievers who constantly overachieved. The club, under the tutelage of Big Sam Allardyce, spent several Premier League seasons languishing at the bottom end of the table staving off relegation before progressing to mid-table safety. It wasn’t that they were good, because, for the most part, they weren’t, but it was because they always found a gutsy way of surviving by sheer determination, miraculous last game results, and for finding the last remaining ounce of juice left in washed-up players looking for one last round of glory.
It’s the latter point perhaps, that endeared Bolton to fans who didn’t spend their weekends at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton was the home to many talents that found new life under Allardyce. Players that managed to thrill a mostly dull part of the footballing world with European flair and Nigerian spice. I have fond memories of the indomitable Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff reminding fans of their class. Then there were the bruising, hard-hitting playing styles of Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro- adding much-needed steel to that Bolton lineup. They complimented the steadfast if not boring quality that came with the ever-present Jussi Jääskeläinen and Kevin Davies. Atop them all sat Big Sam- who long before he became a joke in English football, was the no-frills, old-school English manager who took Bolton up from the old Division One to the Premier League. And during his run, he became known for being able to get Bolton out of trouble at the last minute, no matter how ugly the season had been. They made an FA Cup Semi Final and the Round of 16 of the UEFA Cup, somehow beating Atletico Madrid along the way.
Those days are sadly long gone as the club find itself languishing in the third tier of English football, once again ending the previous season relegated. Mired in financial disarray, the club has been in control of administrators since May, with its long-awaited takeover by new owners (whoever they may end up being) dragging on and on. The sad state of affairs has been punctuated by the club unable to pay its players and staff, canceled pre-season friendlies, and quite possibly the saddest team sheet in all the time I’ve been a fan of English football. As of this time, their official team page has but 7 players listed (no defenders), not even enough to field a full first team. If by the time you read this they’re able to pull their socks up and field a full team, it’ll be a miracle.
Their financial downward spiral hit breaking point in 2015 when the club found itself £172.9 million in debt. It only seemed to get worse from there. Unpaid taxes, transfer embargoes, manager changes, poor results, and most depressingly, non-playing staff having to use food bank donations to feed themselves (including donations from rival club Preston North End).
It really is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton find themselves in. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a true Wanderers fan to face the reality of their club in 2019. It’s not that the club has ever been successful (their last significant trophy was the 1958 FA Cup), but from the outside, their grit, their pluck, and their ability to seemingly escape the direst of circumstances made them endearing. They were the underdog team of has-beens, never-rans, forgotten souls, and Big Sam.
Now it seems their darkest days are closing in. Football fans surely would love for new owners to come in, reset the club, and start that long, arduous journey back into stability. But their new season hopes don’t even start on any positive note, with their financial failings they’ve already been docked 12 points before the start of the new season. Even with new owners, it will take a significant time to turn things around. The best they can hope for is to pull a Rangers and find themselves back on the up after 5 or so years… but the English Premier League is a far different beast to that of the Scottish Premier League, just ask Leeds United.
The long road back is never going to be easy. And for Bolton Wanderers, once a club that found its soul with players looking for one last spot of luck, may have run out of its own.
The Long Goodbye: A Spurs fan’s final salute to Kawhi Leonard
Am I a product of my generation? Yes, just like Kawhi and many of today’s younger generation of fans are a product of theirs.
The saga of Kawhi Leonard is over and while his signing to the Clippers means that two fanbases are left incredibly disappointed, there’s one group that is making their overdue final goodbyes. For Spurs fans like myself, it is clear that while the Board Man is a special player, he is a product of the current generation of players- loyal to themselves. It’s OK, I’ve resigned myself to moving on because I was happy that he won in Toronto, happy for everyone involved (except for Drake) because I knew that as soon as he signed for the Clippers, his legacy would no longer be built on unbreakable bonds but rather on personal pursuit alone. And that was never the trait of the silver and black. At times during this saga, I’ve felt like Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s 1973 movie The Long Goodbye, blinded by what I initially thought was loyalty. But after living through Kawhi sitting out, his demands for leaving, and ultimately, his winning a ring for the North, I’ve realized that in today’s NBA, allegiance, integrity, and trust are the exception, not the norm.
One of my earliest memories of being a Spurs fan was the ragtag group of players assembled for the 1992 season. It was early in my Spurs fandom and only two years into the storied career of David Robinson. The Admiral would become my favorite Spur, and ultimately, my favorite NBA player of all-time, but it was clear early on that he needed help. While Sean Elliott, Willie Anderson, and Avery Johnson were nice pieces, it was memories of wayward Rod Strickland passes that would ultimately encapsulate that time as an NBA fan. But the truth is, it was an important learning phase for any true NBA fan- that success comes with smart moves and dedicated, loyal, and hard working players who forever would put team above the name on the back of the jersey.
The years that followed was a mix of frustration and hope. The team gelled, especially for the 1994-1995 season where the team finished 1st in the Midwest (62-20) and David Robinson would end up capturing the league MVP after a dominant season (27 ppg, 10 reb, 3 blks). It was all awash come playoff time where vivid memories of Hakeem Olajuwon “dream shaking” The Admiral out of his shoes still haunt me to this day.
Perseverance paid off. Both for the Spurs and to fans like myself. Then general manager Gregg Popovich took on the additional responsibility of running the ship from the sideline, David Robinson was never traded, he rarely complained, and the miracle of the 1997 NBA Draft changed the fortunes of the franchise forever.
The years that followed were graced by the very best kind of basketball for basketball purists. While the league continued to flourish under the star power and glamour of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the Spurs quietly put together championship pedigree devoid of front page drama, superstar whinging and a sense of loyalty to the city and team that has all but become extinct in today’s NBA. My generation of Spurs fans are lucky to have lived through 5 championships, but also lucky that we were able to stay true to a team that had loyalty in their DNA. We were blessed that Tim Duncan got to take the court with players Tony Parker and Manu. Both absolutely crucial to the titles and the teams, both exhibited the kind of character seemingly rare today.
Kawhi was supposed to be the next titan of the team. We saw what was possible with his captaincy and Finals MVP run for the 2014 ring. He was supposed to continue the Spurs legacy. What we got instead was an endless whinge-fest, culminating in his sitting out all but 9 games of the 2017-2018 season. The mysterious ailment that plagued him, his battle with Spurs management, his desire to “go home” to California, and his distance from other Spurs players led to so much unnecessary frustration. In March of 2018, Manu was quoted as saying; “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him.”
It’s the kind of distraction that my 7th-grade basketball coach would have found embarrassing. Kawhi did the Spurs dirty, and while fans often project the burden of legacy on to players even when they never set out to be, it is the unfortunate fall out of being a great player- especially one that at the time, seem to fit the mold. Kawhi has now done the Raptors dirty, and if he wins a title in Clipper-land, he will most likely do them dirty too. It’s his MO, it’s his way, and really, in today’s 2K video game NBA, it’s OK because that’s just the way it goes.
Team basketball is dead, superteam basketball is now the play. Raptors fans are playing it cool, saying that the one title was more than they could have ever asked for. But really, if I was a Raptors fan I would be disappointed because Toronto seemed like such a great place for him to be. A good coach, a good front office, an adoring nation, everything he said he was unhappy with in San Antonio. If I was a Raptors fan, I would be disappointed not because the team didn’t do what the Clippers did and mortgage their future for a chance for more, but because Kawhi proved that there’s no such thing as loyalty- and that it’s OK today as long as there’s some transient success. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Spurs basketball. Spoiled by Popp’s team-first mentality where the glory of championship parades is not the end, but the next beginning. If I was a Clippers fan I would be wary. Not just because Kawhi isn’t as superhuman as we’ve all made him to be. But because the Clippers DID have to mortgage an entire future for Kawhi and Paul George to battle it out against LeBron, against AD, against an entire city that will always hold the Lakers above the Clippers. If I was a Clippers fan, I would be wary of Kawhi’s new 3-year, $103 million dollar deal (with the option to opt-out in two). Not because it means he’s positioned himself for that supermax pay off, but because potentially, he could weasel his way out of the Clippers in two years too.
Am I old and a little bitter? Maybe. I’m grateful of Kawhi’s contributions to that 2014 title- his performance during those finals, especially after the bitter disappointment of the previous year, proved that he was more than capable of being the next Spurs great. He came alive in Game 3, proved his MVP status in Games 4 and 5, and cemented what seemed like the future for the franchise. But in the end, what stands out more for me is the letdown that Kawhi just wasn’t up to par with the Spurs giants that he was supposed to follow. Am I a product of my generation? Yes, just like Kawhi and many of today’s younger generation of fans are a product of theirs.
He could have been placed next to The Iceman, The Admiral, and The Big Fundamental, instead, Kawhi becomes another in the long line of a new generation of NBA superstars beholden to no one but themselves, playing their former teams and fanbases for fools. I feel like Phillip Marlowe, manipulated, trust broken, hearing Kawhi telling me that “maybe I’ll never learn, maybe I’m a born loser”. Maybe he’s right, maybe I’m just waiting for my harmonica moment. It’s the way things go today.