One of the things which make football a great game is the fact that it's enjoyed by people from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
The educated and uneducated, the pie-munchers and the prawn sandwich nibblers, the rich and? well, the mega-rich, in the case of the Premiership.
It brings together people who wouldn't normally have cause to be together; it provides a topic of conversation to people who have little else in common.
The late AJ Ayer, sometime Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University, was a devoted Spurs fan ? as are Chas and Dave who, without wishing to be too disparaging, are not quite on his intellectual level. Yet if they had ever met (and who knows, they may have done), they would have been able to yap, yap, rabbit, rabbit, bunny, jabber, rabbit about football for hours.
Other sports just don't have that across-the-board appeal. The social mix in a rugby union crowd is about as broad as you would expect to find in any public school. (I'm generalising a bit here, but not much; I live just down the road from Twickenham, and on match days you can hear more braying than at a donkey sanctuary.)
Tennis, it seems, is largely followed by middle-aged, Cliff Richard-loving spinsters from the Home Counties wearing Union Jack T-tents. And as for cricket? hmm, actually a lot of my mates like cricket, so I'd better not go there.
In fact, does anything have the mass appeal of football? Madonna once suggested that 'music makes the people come together', and went on to elaborate on this proposition by stating somewhat ungrammatically that 'music mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel'; this is probably the only thing that rivals it.
As ever, the diversity amongst football fans was in evidence at City's recent game at Charlton. Two particular examples stood out ? one amusing, one rather less so.
Before the match, I bumped into my friends Pete and Isabel. They'd just spotted each other across a packed platform at Charlton station and had managed to move through the crowd to meet up.
'It's like that scene in Les Enfants du Paradis,' said my learned friend Isabel ? whereupon a Charlton fan in front of her turned round with a puzzled expression and two large question marks hovering above his head. 'Oh, I'm sorry,' Isabel apologised, 'I forgot I was at the football.'
The other incident occurred on the train back to London Bridge after the game.
We'd only just pulled out of the station when I overheard a home fan over by the carriage doors talking loudly to some other Charlton fans about the second penalty decision.
'I have to say, it wasn't a pen,' he said. 'I had a clear view of it from where I sit and the foul was well outside the box. I have to be honest and say that, it was never a pen.'
Now there, I thought, is a very even-handed, fair-minded chap. How very refreshing to hear a supporter admit that his team has benefited from a refereeing mistake. Well done, that man.
However, things then took an unexpected turn?
'I thought the ref was rubbish all night,' he went on. 'We'd have been much better off with an English one.'
You could sense everyone in the carriage glancing at one another, wondering whether this conversation ? or rather monologue ? was heading where we feared it might be.
Eventually someone pointed out that, in fact, Mr J. Singh of Middlesex is British.
'Nah, nah. You can't be with skin that colour.'
What followed, on the remainder of the 18-minute journey which seemed infinitely longer, was the reeling-off of every prejudice in the book… if such a book actually exists, though I hope it doesn't. 'They come over here? they take our jobs? they take our houses? they blow us up?'
Every so often, this diatribe was punctuated by a declaration that 'I'm not a racist, don't get me wrong ? I'm just speaking the truth…'
Part of me regrets that I didn't go over and confront him over this, if only to ask him for clarification on what precisely constitutes a racist. But it wouldn't have served any purpose other than to get myself beaten up; he spoke a lot about his time in the army, and looking at his appearance it was believable.
His description of Danny Mills as 'cushty' also suggested he was strongly in favour of the use of violence.
I wasn't so complacent as to think that football had managed to rid itself of racism; this season alone, we've had the alleged Nazi salutes from Hull supporters, the chants from Newcastle followers against Middlesbrough's Mido, and now there are claims of anti-semitic abuse at Chelsea. (How likely is the latter? Check out this photo, which I fear may be of the family enclosure at Stamford Bridge.)
Regrettably, even Norwich supporters do not have an unblemished record; a win at Gillingham a few seasons ago was marred by abuse about travellers and asylum seekers directed towards the home fans.
But to hear someone coming out with this stuff so openly and unashamedly was still shocking.
This, I suppose, is the downside of football's universal popularity; it appeals to unpleasant people too.
Not that this should deter the rest of us from going. In fact it makes it all the more important that we do so.
Then again, I'm just starting to consider when I might start taking my two children to matches. I'm not too bothered about the bad language they might hear ? as long as they don't grass me up to their Mum ? but the danger of them coming into contact with hate-filled views is more of a worry.
Or should they be made aware of what the world is really like? It's a difficult one.
Talking of difficult ones, my current view on the subject of Peter Grant's tenure of the manager's position is a fence-sitting, splinter-suffering 'Don't know…'
I was happy enough with his appointment, I liked his determination and honesty and have agreed with most of what he has said during his year in charge. But he doesn't half make it hard to keep supporting him with some of his team selections and tactics.
And how can anyone defend the recent run of results and the inability to sign a commanding centre-back?
I'm beginning to think my strongest objection to change is my innate dislike of change itself. Which maybe isn't strong enough.
Here's a curious thing, though. The two City fans I know who most want Grant to go are the ones who argued with me until the last that Nigel Worthington should be given more time to turn things around.
I'm not sure why the roles have been reversed a year on; if I get to the bottom of it, I'll let you know.
And finally? there's no Ipswich-related joke this time, I'm afraid. I don't think we're in a position to point and laugh at anyone else at the moment, do you?
Leave a Reply