Monday, May 07, 2007

Alan Hansen for Liverpool (v Dymano Dresden), 19 October 1977

The A-Z of Football

H is for....Havant-A-Clue Ville -

I can handle anything from a chant, largely speaking. I can be sworn at, told that I’m not singing anymore or that my team has an inferior ground, and zero fans with which to fill it. None of it phases me, particularly the latter which taken (mostly) literally, suggests that, as I’ve feared since doing A-level philosophy, I do not really exist at all, but rather am an imaginational figment inside the swede of a drunk Tamworth fan. I’m sure we’ve all been frozen by that particular fear at one time or another.

However, despite my mallard-esque waterproof spine when it comes to opposition choral blather, this doesn’t apply when reading the inane rantings of cads of the most unscrupulous kidney (to borrow C.B. Fry’s phrasing, I’d call ‘em c**** myself) on that there interweb. It’s not even the vitriol spout from behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity that gets me the most, even though it does get me, but actually where a trite, playground insult appears from nowhere, in an otherwise rational missive.

It is perhaps sad that I should get wound up most by those refer to Havant & Waterlooville as ‘Havant-A-Clue Ville’. Taking a step back, it’s not the worst re-appropriation (although it’d surely have worked better had the tally of syllables matched), but like any of these insults that merely twist the name or just change a single letter, it may not hurt, but Christ they’re annoying when they’re used even by people who aren’t embittered by the grievances of local/historic rivalry.

Elementary research into this area this morning has thrown up Lincoln City’s ground as now being the rather benignly perverted sounding Sincil Wank, courtesy a Boston fan; Brighton & Homo Albion, which came, I imagine, from either a Crystal Palace fan (who may well inhabit “Smelhurst Park” of a Saturday), a big plank of a homophobe, or maybe both; and, of course, a Shitty for every City you can name.

Of course, less cerebral Newcastle fans will have gone down the Blunderland route over the years, while ‘Mackems’ is used interchangeably by the Toon and the Black Cats, apparently both positively and negatively. Indeed, fans of Hartlepool and Ipswich appear to have embraced Monkey Hangers and Tractor Boys, while Brighton & Hove have rebuffed nicknames such as those above by apparently being known to sing “1-0 to the shirt-lifters” when the situation permits.

With the really big long-standing hate-filled rivalries, the original team name will disappear from usage amongst the opposition to be replaced forevermore by the new name. Certainly, closest to home for me in that respect is the Portsmouth/Southampton rivalry. That Portsmouth call Southampton ‘scum’ was supposed to be due to its acronym for ‘Southampton City Union Men’ referring to Southampton dockers breaking a Portsmouth picket line in the 30’s. There isn’t much evidence for this and, besides, ‘scum’ appears to be the go-to insult in all derby day relations. Southampton’s rebuttal for ‘scum’ is ‘skate’, referring to Portsmouth’s Royal Naval history. However I’m not entirely clear whether this refers to Portsmouth sailors smelling like fish or due to their having regularly made the beast with two backs, a few gills and a plate of chips on the side with their friends from the sea. Under the law of football insults, I think I should assume the latter.

Me? Of course, I’m above such pettiness. You can ask anyone.

Except, maybe, the supporters of Aldershit.

H is for....Half Time Draw (Lord Bargain)

Being as I have a reasonably strong bladder and no desire for overpriced Bovril, I find myself at my seat during the half time interval at the vast majority of United matches. Despite Old Trafford's huge capacity, the mid-game break at the Theatre of Dreams is, and I am being polite, utterly dreadful.

If we are very lucky, we get a series of fat blokes who have won a competition on the back of Sugar Puffs who lumber on to take penalties against our fourth choice youth team goalie. Not that it's predictable, but if one of them scuffs both of theirs horribly, they get another go. If one sends a pinpoint spot-kick into the top corner, a chorus of "Fergie, Fergie, sign him up" rings around the stadium.

The other way the United staff have come up with to make the half-time break less boring is the Half Time Cashdash Draw. Tickets are on sale on the way into the ground for £1 with the chance of winning cash prizes up to £2,000. As the teams amble off the pitch, two blokes lug on a big red tombola drum in preparation for the draw.

But, and here's the thing, we get a Minor Celeb to draw the raffle. Now, to be fair, they are hardly Hollywood A-list. Mostly, they tend to be Coronation Street stalwarts or C-list "celebrity" United fans. I have lost count of the amount of times Kevin Webster or Russell "bloody" Watson have trotted on to draw the numbers.

The reason I mention this, however, is that the half-time draw on one occasion did provide one of my all time favourite Old Trafford moments.

Some years ago, the half-time whistle went during a Premiership game in which the home side had struggled. It was 1-1 and we weren't playing all that well. Out came the announcer and the red raffle bin and the spiel about today's "special guest" began. The announcer prattled excitedly about how he was one of the UK's leading sportsmen. How he was in the World top 10, the seven times Order of Merit winner etc etc etc. "Ladies and Gentlemen - Colin Montgomerie!..."

Monty, eh? Quite a top sportsperson. And more famous than Martin Platt, clearly. And so, as he made his way onto the pitch, he got some decent applause and a good, friendly reception. He pulled some numbers from the hat, and then the announcer decided to have a word.

"Enjoying the game?" he asked. "Oh yes," Monty replied. And then he did something which, to this day, I don't understand. "But it's not the best result for us right now. I'm actually a Leeds fan."

Why would you? In front of 67,000 people, why, when you are a bit of a sporting legend who has just experienced a pretty warm welcome, would you admit to being a supporter of our most hated rival?

Following the loud chorus of "booos", he left the pitch. To the loudest chant of "you fat bastard" I have ever heard in my decades of attending football.


H is for...Alan Hansen (Ben)

Time was when you knew exactly what professional footballers would do when they retired: either go into coaching and then management, or run a pub.

No longer.

There is now a new profession to which more and more ex-pros are drawn, one which has developed as a result of increasing numbers of games being televised. Yes, I’m talking about punditry.

The allure of a career in punditry is obvious: it enables ex-professionals to stay in the game and in the limelight, and flatters them into thinking that their opinions are inherently valuable and of interest to the viewing fan. To be qualified to be a pundit, it seems all you need is to have played the game, and not necessarily at the highest level possible – no matter whether you struggle to articulate yourself and whether, on those rare occasions when you do succeed in saying something intelligible, you prove to be about as insightful as a myopic mole in a sack.

Let’s examine the evidence.

Robbie Earle: has he ever said anything remotely interesting?

Ian Wright: over-excitable and incoherent, far better suited to being a children’s entertainer.

Andy Townsend: a textbook case of someone’s ego swelling to monstrous proportions through being invited to share his opinions / deliver his verdicts on a regular basis.

Our very own Alan Shearer, I must grudgingly admit, hardly sparkles, his monotone unlikely to illuminate much (even if I don’t think he’s as bad as is often made out).

And then there’s Garth fucking Crooks.

Yes, the pundits actually worth their salt are few and far between. But one man stands out as a shining example to the others: Alan Hansen.

As far as I can tell, Hansen’s been there pretty much from the beginning. He’d be well within his rights to consider himself the Grandfather Of Punditry. I am one of those football fans who, too young to have seen him in his playing pomp for Liverpool, know him far better as the man sat to Gary Lineker’s right, and one of the main reasons for the clear superiority of the BBC’s football coverage over that of ITV and Sky.

Sure, he has an occasional tendency to lapse into self-parody with those quick-fire assessments of players (“Power, pace, precision” etc) and the references to someone’s “left peg”, but he can be excused that for his frequently perceptive analysis of the match at hand. Rather than continually referring back to his own playing days (as others do), he brings his knowledge of the game to bear upon the present proceedings with greater subtlety.

If the objective of his profession is, at root, to explain and inform, then Hansen should be commended as the pundit who makes by far the most astute and enlightening observations on tactics and formations, observations which are always substantiated by clips. Listen to Ian Wright and you’re invariably bombarded with the jibberings of an idiot with ADHD; listen to Hansen and you’re likely to learn something.

There is, I think, a young pretender in town in the form of Gavin Peacock – certainly the best of the new breed – but Hansen should hold onto the throne for a good while yet.

H is for....hatred (Swiss Toni)

Anyone with even the most passing acquaintance with Sky Sports 3 will know that there are many sports in the world. I’m sure that speedway has many virtues and is, in its own right, every bit as good as football… but it doesn’t quite get the same crowds, does it? You might be able to cram 100,000 people into the MCG for the Boxing Day Test or for the AFL finals, but surely it is only football that can pack in the crowds in their thousands week in, week out. Relegation threatened West Ham are regularly watched by crowds approaching 35,000. Hell, even 6,000 people turned up to watch the dogfight between Wrexham and Torquay at the bottom of League Two. Whatever else it might be, football is certainly box office.

For all those people pushing through the turnstiles though, there’s one thing about football crowds that really disturbs me: the hatred. Take a snapshot of almost any football crowd at any game and tell me what you see. I’ll tell you what I see: I see faces contorted with anger and hatred, many frozen in a grotesque rictus, midway through hurling abuse at any or all of the referee, the opposition, or their own players. Think of the chants: many are undeniably entertaining, but how many of them are not at the expense of someone else? How many celebrate achievement without denigrating someone else’s failure? I realise that this is true of all sports crowds to some extent, but I cannot say that I have seen it to anything like the same extent when watching rugby or cricket as I have when watching football.

Perhaps the fans take their cue from the players. I know that the stakes are high, but how many decisions are accepted without a barrage of abuse at the officials? How often do you see the referee surrounded by screaming players all seeking retribution or to have a decision reversed that will never be reversed? Where does all this hatred and anger come from? Can it possibly be justified? Should we just shrug and accept it?

Of course I’m generalising. I know I’m generalising. After all, football is family entertainment now, isn’t it?


H is for....haircut (Paul)

No sport in the world can boast a greater impact on the hairstyles of a nation more than football. In recent times, this has best been embodied by David Beckham - whose changing haircuts during his tenure as England Captain saw thousands of kids heading to school with a range of haircuts, some of which were downright ridiculous (Becks mohican instantly springs to mind).

However, whilst Beckham may be rightly regarded as a football hairstyle criminal, guilty of repeated crimes against sound barbering practice, he is by no means the only guilty party.

Who could forget the nasty perms which adorned Liverpool legends Souness and McDermott, the mullets of Hoddle and Waddle, the massive barnet of Columbian legends Higuita and Valderrama, and don't even get me started on the divine ponytail Roberto Baggio, or that stupid wedge that Ronaldo sported at the World Cup in Japan.

It may be a cheap shot, but mocking footballers for crap haircuts is something which is clearly part and parcel of the game. From Charlton's comb over to Rio's dreads it's clear that an ability to kick a piece of leather doesn't imbue you with an innate understanding of what makes a good haircut, and the fortunes that players are now paid only seeks to detach them from reality to the point where crap haircuts seem like a good idea.

That's all well and good - if players want to look like idiots, let them. But please, if you or anyone you know thinks that copying a footballer's haircut is acceptable in everyday society, stop, go and find someone whose opinion you trust, and ask them to slap you until you see sense. Just think of the money you'll save.


More excellent pieces, there. And more swearing than we have previously encountered. Never a bad thing....


Anonymous said...

Good work all. I was too lazy and disorganised to get my act together for this one.

Havant-A... - Self-ridiculing jibes are always to be admired (top marks, Brighton fans). You remind me of Wrexham's 'One nil to the sheep-shaggers'.

Half-Time - the Monty anecdote speaks of a man who's either a prize idiot or a Not Very Football Fan. Nice though, those coming together moments, eh.

Hansen - yes, one of the better ones - the self-styled smart one to Lawrenson's embarrassing uncle routine.

Hatred - you remind me of a scene I witnessed on a platform at Old Trafford station. A man-mountain of a Middlesbrough fan, probably about 30 years old (and as many stones in weight), who'd been loudly vile and threatening throughout the match, coyly asking a little old man (a United fan) what he'd thought of the match. They continued their chat onto the train. The immediate football environment does strange things to ordinarily decent folk (though there are plenty of thoroughbreds c***s out there too).

Haircuts - late 80s/early 90s, I remember my brother going to get his hair cut and pulling out a wall poster of Gazza (avec mop-top) with a request for similar - it did not happen (the intervention of a good mother).

It's all reminiscence therapy to me. Ta.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is awful. However, you did say you are an A-level philosophy student. Don't go in to be a copywriter (or comic).