Since the game at Palace on New Year's Day, I've noticed a lot of comments on various websites ? including this one ? criticising the outdated conditions and facilities at Selhurst Park.
They're all entirely justified, of course. But I don't think anyone's mentioned one thing which I thought really captured the stale whiff of the past hanging about the place.
On the perimeter fence in front of the stand opposite us was an ad for Brut aftershave, with the line: 'For Real Men'.
Is that stuff still around, or has the hoarding just been uncovered by Channel Four's Time Team? I've always associated the grating smell of Brut with the 1970s, when Henry Cooper splashed it all over in the TV commercials ? on one occasion accompanied in the showers by Kevin Keegan after a hot and sweaty workout. (Click here to watch it ? and look out for KK indulging in a spot of friendly fist action at the end.)
Even then, Brut wasn't used by men, but by spotty teenage boys. I remember someone at school (no, not me) stinking out the classroom with it one day. 'Right, who's wearing the poof juice?' barked the French master when he marched in. (Of course, he wouldn't be allowed to say that now, and rightly so. Homophobia is well gay. Er? oh, you know what I mean.)
The question of what exactly defines a 'real man' is highly debatable, of course. My view, as a latte-drinking, nappy-changing, Guardian-reading liberal doubtless differs considerably from that of the fans extolling South London on the grounds that 'It's got t**s, f***y and the Palace…'
It's no easier to arrive at a definition even if we narrow the debate to the world of football ? and ignore the views of those who think that football isn't a game for real men in the first place.
(I'm thinking here of rugby pundit Brian Moore who never misses an opportunity to mock namby-pamby footballers, and of those sports fans in the US who don't get 'soccer'. As the general manager of the New York Cosmos in the 1970s put it: 'In this bloody country, Americans think that any guy who runs around in shorts kicking a ball instead of catching it has to be a Commie or a fairy…')
If he can be defined at all, perhaps it's by what he doesn't do as much as by what he does, along the lines of 'Real Men Don't Eat Quiche'. Not that quiche is available at Selhurst Park's vile food counter.
Wearing gloves or brightly coloured boots might be things to avoid. One member of the Capital Canaries football team used to do both, but got fed up with all the taunts and rough treatment they attracted. And that was before he left our dressing room.
Mind you, even he didn't wear a pair of tights as Keith Weller did when he played for Leicester against Norwich in an FA Cup match in 1979. Weller might have scored one of the goals in a 3-0 win, but he was forever known after that game for wearing women's clothing.
Having a bright orange face might also be considered a matter for exclusion. It would rule out Simon Jordan, anyway.
Shutting your eyes when heading a ball? no, hang on, that would rule me out.
Diving or feigning an injury to gain an advantage would disqualify a player in my book. It's impossible now to visit Selhurst without looking angrily at that spot in the penalty area at the Holmesdale end where Andy Johnson performed a forward pike with one and a half twists in our last Premiership season. (I notice he's now celebrating goals with an 'A' sign. I think we know what that stands for.)
Simulation is often thought of as a recent blight on the game and is frequently blamed on foreign players (by Peter Crouch, for example), but it has been around in Britain for years. Here's former Cardiff manager Jimmy Scoular quoted in The Boys' Book of Soccer for 1969, which I still haven't returned to the loft since my last column:
'Chaps go rolling over in agony and the crowds roar, but a couple of minutes later they are all right again. Some of the lads today should be on the stage rather than the football field. In my day we didn't even like to show we were hurt. It was regarded as the thing to do to keep pain to yourself if you could…'
This view of past players as being manlier seems to be a commonly held one, perhaps because the ones on the pitch seem younger the older you get. Nat Lofthouse once remarked on how players used to be more gentlemanly as well as being tough:
'There were plenty of fellers who would kick your b*****ks off. The difference was that at the end of the game they'd shake your hand and help you look for them…'
But we still haven't really pinpointed the qualities that make a real man in football today. Perhaps we should turn to one of the game's great thinkers for help. Like Joey Barton, who said last November:
'I am not here to be everyone's mate? Along the way, there's going to be some people upset and who don't like it but, hey, it's a man's world. Nice people finish last.'
To him, being a man evidently means winning at all costs, no matter how unpleasant or ruthless you have to be. And he's not alone in his thinking ? even in Sunday football, thugs will justify terrible fouls by protesting, 'It's a man's game, ref'.
It's not a view of manhood I share. I tend more to the Kipling view:
'If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you?' (For example, you remain confident when people are criticising your appointment as manager.)
'If you can wait and not be tired by waiting?' (Say, for Karren Brady to accept ?750,000 for Tiny Taylor.)
'If all men count with you, but none too much?' (You are prepared to leave Darren Huckerby out of the starting line-up on occasions.)
'If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds' worth of distance run?' (You get the team working their socks off for the whole game.)
I am, you will gather, rather impressed with our manager.
And finally? in a separate interview towards the end of last year, Joey Barton came out with the following:
'I think the main thing for me is I don't think I'd ever be judged on this earth. I think at the end of the day you can do whatever you want to do here? Whether it be right or wrong, I believe when I stand in front of my Maker then I can say to him “Yeah, I did this for this reason; this, that for this reason”.'
It'll be interesting to see whether he uses this as his defence as and when his assault cases come to court.
It has been tried before. A judge once asked a defendant after a guilty verdict whether he had anything to say before sentence was passed.
'As God is my judge, I am innocent,' the defendant declared.
'He isn't; I am; you're not; six months,' said the judge.