Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Barry Horne for Everton (v Wimbledon), 9 May 1994

Apologies for the delay, but my favourite current Web feature is back. The CUAS massive tell us what football means to them, alphabetically...

The A-Z Of Football

E is for Evening kick offs - (Skif)

Football is better under lights. Fact. It’s there in the evidence.

One of Subbuteo’s more successful accessories was the set of floodlights they produced. Not crappy trim-on-the-top-of-the-stand lights neither. Not the ones I had anyway. Proper gert fuck-off Eastern European big black brick action. Oh yeah. Every Thursday evening after Scouts; always Slavia Prague away. Just me?

Also where would the away day traveller be without the big bastard floodlights. Sod the intricate cartographic reference prior to the game. Tradition dictates rolling off the train in to a pub, then out again between 2 and 3, looking through bleary eyes for the four tall grey things that will lead you to the ground. Or possibly a goods yard.

Then there are the pundits and players always going on about the brilliance of the ‘European nights’. Frankly, the European bit isn’t the important bit. It’s about the immersing yourself under several layers of clothing. Who says you can’t wear a replica top over a vest, 3 t-shirts and a cricket woolly? Also, it’s about the only time in your footballing life where tea is chosen voluntarily over beer. European nights though? Pah. It might as well be Totnes & Dartington SC as Real Madrid. Ok, that’s definitely just me. I am telling you though; it’s the drippy nose and the breath condensation that make it.

Of course, the floodlit game is always at risk from the power failure but, and I think Fantasy Football League showed this, supporters will always take it in possibly misplaced good humour. Lights go out – up goes a “Rrrraaayyyy.” Your team can be leading 4-0 with half an hour to go, and such an event could cause all the good work to come to nought in an eventual abandonment, but no, the football supporter will react as though their Uncle Geoff has just made an inadvertent knob-gag while delivering the Christmas grace.

I’ve been quite lucky. In all the games I’ve seen (about 450 all told) I’ve never witnessed an abandonment, for any reason. Not for weather, lights out or anything more tragic either I’m glad to say. I’ve been at a couple of games where we’ve had to hang around a bit, once for an ambulance after defender Shaun Gale’s right arm collided with the pitch with an almighty snap in a pre-season friendly at Selsey for one. Another was when the lights went out during an early December home league game against Tamworth. Thankfully there was “an electrician in the house”, and we were able to complete the game. As we were losing 2-0 at the point of the fuse blow, a dance of darkness from our support might have been the ticket. Us lot shuffling about on the terraces for 20 minutes and blowing into our gloves probably didn’t help either way. No Far-East betting syndicates or Rhodesian-born goalkeepers were thought to be involved.

I do enjoy an evening game though, particularly away games. Travelling from Havant to Stafford on a Tuesday night in January once was probably the furthest, Kings Lynn the longest (time wise – stupid lack of East Anglian motorways), but if you win (and we won and drew those respectively) the trip back is always fun. Sure, your buoyancy will eventually flag and you may fall asleep, but lose and you’ll be squeezing the eye-lids to compel yourself into kippage before you’ve even left the car park. Losing 3-1 away to Chippenham, and spending 45 minutes next to a local with a drum, made that trip back feel a whole lot longer than it actually was, I can tell you.

Soon I am moving to London from Liverpool and thus, finally, will now be in the area where Havant & Waterlooville will play a fair amount of their midweek Conference South away games. However my new job will require working one evening a week.

I am typing this last line with my nose, my two hands being tied up with praying that it won’t be a Tuesday.

E is for Exaggeration - (El Tel)

"He was a mile offside", "That was the worst foul that I've seen in a long time", "We've had some shocking referees this season, but that takes the biscuit", "We're by far the greatest team.". I could go on.

Football, impartiality, logic, reason - words that are, in impassioned footballing reportage, uncomfortable bedfellows. Reason is to football, what Barry Davies is to... actually, let's not go there.

As a kid, I remember puzzling over the bizarre outrage that would spew from ordinarily sane men - it was always men - whenever a team was down on its luck - or simply being Hartlepool, as was the case for some in the north east of England. Whether dodging the urinary flow of the Sea of Drunk Geordies or Rowdy Mackems, floating with afternoon idlers around the Brewery
Field of Spennymoor United (as was), or simply watching Match of the Day at home, there was always a comment or two of unmitigated bullshit only seconds away.

To this day, the collective psychology that enables hundreds and thousands of fans to pour scorn upon referees and opponents, when their own team is simply being outplayed, remains a mystery. Maybe its something to do with identity, or ego, or social pressure, or some peculiar inflection of human perception that only becomes manifest when bad singers amass around a
game that has evolved from pig's bladder knockabout. I do not know. But this exaggeration, is it bad?

What would football be without exaggeration, without heartfelt sheer nonsense, without regular robbery? It would be fair and honourable and reasonable, and yet at the same time utterly cold, clinical, and so very unattractive. Can you imagine such a game? A game that might feature, say, the 'progressive' goal-line technology? Foul stuff. Perhaps we would witness cries of "The technologist is a wanker - cheat, cheat, cheat!" and so on.

No, I'm afraid that wouldn't do. As odd as exaggeration remains, I hold it dear to my heart. In recent times, the most entertaining forms of exaggeration that I've been privy to have been from Middlesbrough fans. I nod, I listen, I smile, and I think 'But you're supporting Middlesbrough!'

To me, this exaggeration business shall remain as much a part of football as the adrenaline rush of providing the perfect through-ball, striking the crispest volley, and balking at the culinary horrors that count as modern day 'refreshments'.

In football, E is for Exaggeration, but that's probably because it's the cousin of Emotion.

E is for Escalators - (Lord Bargain)

In the early 1990's, my missus was a Toffee. Thankfully, she wasn't actually a Scouser, rather her affiliation with the blue Merseysiders was borne from her brother; also an Everton fan. And so, on occasion, we would go and watch a match.

In principle, of course, going to watch football with your other half is a Good Thing. However, bear in mind that the time in which we were going was during the darkest moments of the clubs recent history.

For example, you will no doubt remember the 1993/4 season where they only retained their top-flight status in the last ten minutes or so of the season, mainly thanks to the theatrical penalty-box antics of ex Arsenal winger Anders Limpar.

Those were the days of Barry Horne and John Ebbrell. Of Ian Snodin and Gary Ablett.

Ordinarily, we would sit with the "hardcore" home support in the Gwladys Street end of the ground. However, one night we decided to have a change of scenery.

It was 20 September 1994 and Everton had been pitted against Portsmouth in the second round of the Coca-Cola Cup. We weren't back at Uni for another couple of weeks and so we decided to go along to the match. Unfortunately, mainly due to the awful weather, only 14,340 other hardy souls decided to join us.

We collected our tickets and passed through the turnstile into the ground, and then I was faced with something that until last year I had never seen at a football ground before or since.

There was an escalator.

Now then, I have taken a lift to my seat before now. And I have climbed an inordinate number of stairs to get to my position (the climb to my old seat in the Stretford End was about 140 steps) but, until March 2006 at the Amsterdam Arena I had never taken an escalator before. It just seems so, well, bourgeois.

So, I suppose respect is due to Everton for at least taking their long-suffering fans to their seat in comfort. Needless to say they lost the Cup match 3-2 (despite a wonder goal from one Vincent Samways) in one of the most desperate home performances I had ever seen. At least I was taken to my seat in style, though.

E is for Easy - (Paul)

Most of you will have seen Soccer AM on SKY at some point. No doubt many of you remember last year's World of Wrestling inspired Easy chant, which courtesy of messers Lovejoy and Chamberlain found its way on to the terraces all across the country.

It's the chant where fans (normally just after their team has scored) clap their hands together above their heads, keeping their arms straight, and decry the opposition that has been served up before them.

I absolutely detest this chant.

This isn't to say that I dislike singing - far from it. I'd much rather we lived in a world (and attended football matches) where everyone would sing their support for their team. I relish the wit of the terraces, and delight in all aspects of that, including an element of ridiculing the opposition - be it for the rubbish nature of their ground, their team, or their support.

However, I really hate the "Easy" chant. It's straight armed clap which makes everyone look like a deranged seal appealing for a fish, not to mention the condescending nature of the chant, and the deplorable smugness which seems to accompany it.

I can't really explain why this chant, and this chant alone really annoys me, but it does. For me it is the Chelsea of the chant world - inspired by mass marketing, charmless and beloved of smug Londoners.

E is for Engine - (Swiss Toni)

For a sport not normally associated with philology, football is a rather surpising hotbed for some of the most imaginative uses of language in the English speaking world. Graeme Le Saux may have spent his career being accused of homosexuality simply because he read (or claimed to read) the Guardian, but footballers and football pundits have proved time and time again that they are the most amazingly cunning linguists. The prime exponent of this linguistic creativity is of course Ron Atkinson (dealth with here). In big Ron's world, tackles are invariably described as "reducers" unless the tackler has "gone in a bit milky", long balls are variously "reachers" or "hollywood balls" depending on the player and circumstances involved (one man's 'reacher' is invariably David Beckham's 'hollywood').

It's a gloriously varied and many textured world of subtle nuances. Just think of the number of words that are used to describe players and to illustrate their playing styles: midfielders can be gliding artists or hard-tackling enforcers; defenders can be cultured or they can be cloggers; strikers play in the hole or lead the line... They are phrases that may have become cliches, but as descriptions they are hard to beat. Every player may be unique, but football is uniquely equipped with the language and the terms of reference to describe them.

My own personal favourite football-ism is "engine", as in "he's got a good engine". On the face of it, this is a phrase that could be applied to any player with apparently boundless energy and industry. In practice though, it is only ever used when talking about a midfielder - not just any midfielder either, but a tireless box-to-box runner. An artist is for some reason very unlikely to have a good engine. Perhaps it is impossible to both glide elegantly across the turf and to show the sweat and industry necessary to cover the miles. This is functional language at its very best: it's a phrase that is almost completely meaningless, and yet it economically paints such a clear picture that you know exactly what it means. Any fan will know that a player thus described is extremely unlikely to have long, flowing hair. We're talking a crew cut, stubble and lots of sweat. This is a no-nonsense player, probably full of hustle and bustle. We're talking about Ivan Gattusso here, not Francesco Totti.

Perhaps this is the real reason why David Beckham's career has stalled. He styles himself as an artist, but one of his greatest attributes is his engine. He'll never be an enforcer, but he could perhaps have been the perfect fusion of the artist and the box-to-box runner... if only his head hadn't been turned by the glamour of the galactico.... he refuses to see himself as a "water carrier" for anyone else, as if this was something to be disdained (in fact it derives from the term "porteur d'eau" used in cycling to describe the main function of a domestique - a role considered to be vital to the functioning of the team). As a result of this disdain, Beckham is perhaps less of a player than he might have been, and England were certainly less of a team. Owen Hargreaves has no such delusions of grandeur about his role.

E is for enjoyment - (Ben)

I can probably count the number of Newcastle games I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching on one hand.

But then that’s hardly surprising. Being a football fan is not about enjoyment. It’s not a pleasurable pastime. It’s not about sitting back, crossing your arms and savouring the entertainment as you might a film.

On the contrary, it’s about being perched on the edge of your seat. It’s about a creeping nausea in the pit of your stomach. It’s about always fearing the worst. It’s about gnawing your fingernails down until your fingers are bloodied stumps. It’s about having your nerves strung out and played by a virtuoso guitarist. It’s about being helpless, entirely at the mercy of the endeavours (or otherwise) of others for 90 minutes. Your happiness, fragile and brittle, is in the hands of eleven men – none of whom you know personally, few (if any) of whom share or even understand the sort of connection you have to the club. Might as well give the Chuckle Brothers a chandelier to hang.

The enjoyment only really comes afterwards when, the final whistle having set the result in stone, you can finally relax and bask in the glow of a handsome win. If you’re lucky. If not, that same whistle heralds a tidal wave of despair and a cavalcade of what ifs.

There is a solution, of course: do everything you possibly can to prevent yourself from being sucked into developing an attachment to any particular team. As a neutral, I gather, you can take in matches dispassionately as a form of spectacle and entertainment – and, not having any concern in the final outcome, you can enjoy them.

But where’s the fun in that?


Brilliant, yet again. Can I invite contributions for the "F" please? (email them to my profile above). And if you haven't contributed before, please don't be shy. It's easy! easy! easy! (sorry, Paul).


swisslet said...

all the pieces here are good, and this is a great feature, but I think I should give a special mention to Skif --- that was a fantastic read mate, fantastic.

In fact, that was probably the single best thing I have ever read, anywhere in the world ever, Shakespeare included.


(do you see what I did there? Exaggeration aside, it is a great piece though!)

Ben said...

Another vintage collection.

Escalators? At football grounds? What the fuck is the world coming to?

swisslet said...

it's not so much what football is coming to as what fans are coming to. Too many pies, that's what it is!

Do the escalators up Montjuif to the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona (where Espanyol play) count, do you think?


LB said...

No, I don't reckon they count. It's the notion of there being escalators in the ground itself which, as Ben says, is preposterous. It's not Marks and Spencers, God damn it, it's a football ground!!!!

skif said...

Thanks Swiss. You now take up rank as my favourite hyperbolist. Appreciated m'chum.

You'll no doubt be pleased to know that, as this piece was written a while back, I now know my late evening work shift.

And it isn't a Tuesday.


As was Hayes 0 H&W 1 two Tuesdays after I started.

swisslet said...

oh, and re. escalators, I want to put a word in for the less physically abled here. I have a colleague whose husband has MS. They went to see Muse at Wembley Arena and they chose seats so he wouldn't have to stand all night. Their seats were in the gods though, and they had to do a lot of walking. He had to crawl up the last few steps. No one needs that, and escalators (or lifts, perhaps) would have spared him that embarrassment.

Lazy scousers, however, should walk.


LB said...

Football grounds have lifts (at least the ones with huge stands) to enable decent disabled access. Escalators, however, are just downright *lazy*....!

Anonymous said...

The entry for evening kick-offs is a work of genius. Although I don't enjoy the Russian Roulette of traipsing out of Upton Park wondering whether I've just stood in a discarded burger or horse shit (although, admittedly, they're not dissimilar).


Paul Clark said...

A very good selection for E.

The headline 'Barry Horne v Wimbledon' is quite ironic as it was the last time I have used said escalators at Goodison. It was either watch from the Top Balcony or watch from a tree in the park behind the recently demolished Park Stand.

The Top Balcony is not the best to sit in if you have vertigo, like I do. Believe me its not laziness, those escalators are needed.

Paul Clark said...

...and the the lifts have a whiff of the Peckham Estate about them too!!