The football fan collective and wit can be, at times, glorious in its dark and observational humour.
I fondly recall, even now, the exchange between Newcastle and Sunderland fans not so long ago when the Newcastle fans, delighting in the seemingly fatal demise of their opponents took to chanting “going down, going down, going down.”
Unoriginal and predictable yes. But what wasn’t, was the reply of the Sunderland masses who chose to answer back with a cry of, “so are we, so are we, so are we.”
They could make a fortune writing half decent jokes for the likes of Russell Brand if that’s the speed and calibre of their riposte to a half-hearted put down.
Then there was the famous effort from Liverpool, the fans of whom are the self appointed masters of terrace wit, wisdom and repartee. Improvised and sung in tribute to the Bambi on ice tendencies of Djimi Traoré, it didn’t as much celebrate his capabilities as a defender, more his unerring ability to sometimes trip over his own feet whilst, at the same time, managing to fit in the names of three of his more balanced companions into the song thus,
“Don’t blame it on the Biscan, don’t blame it on the Hamann, don’t blame it on the Finnan – blame it on Traore. He just can’t , he just can’t , he just can’t control his feet. He just can’t , he just can’t , he just can’t control his feet. “
Love it. Football humour as it should be. Swift, dark and cutting. And, as all of the best chants and songs in football often are, self deprecatory as well. It’s part of what makes the matchday experience, home or away, worth its weight in gold.
I remember a game at the beginning of the 1985/86 season against Sheffield United. We hadn’t had the best of starts to a post-relegation season with only one win in our opening five games, something which was reflected in a disappointing crowd of just under 13,000 on the night. We won – and won convincingly to the tune of 4-0, yet despite their demise and the onfield woes of their team, the backchat between the large number of travelling supporters and their peers in the Barclay got funnier and funnier as the game wore on. I sat in the old South Stand (H Block) that night and became more and more distracted from the game as I listened to the repartee between the two sets of supporters.
It was a like the Last Night of the Proms for the footballing lads. Banners, colours, singing, exchanges that were as sharp and accurate in their observation and delivery as were those by David Williams on the pitch. As the game petered to its conclusion, I sat back in my seat (or would have done, had there been room) and thought just how much I loved football.
The game, the culture, the interaction between the players and the fans, the wit, character and colour of it all. It was great.
Yes, Carrow Road left a lot to be desired at the time. The state of the road behind the old South Stand was so bad at the time that you often found yourself walking in several inches of mud and water as you navigated it whilst the Barclay was guarded by that stentorian black fence, beyond which was the grassy mound you had to climb and conquer to reach your seat. It was like going into battle – and, once you got to your allotted place on the terrace, you became as familiar and intimate with those around you as you would never want socially, the mass of bodies all packed in together in what was, pretty much, communal harmony.
We all sang from the same hymn sheet and expected little more than to be able to support our team, for good or bad. We were there regardless and we supported the team and one another.
But that sort of wit, the spontaneity and sheer fun of it all seems to be missing from the game now, or has, at the very least, been diluted by the long term commercialisation of the game over the last two decades. One where both clubs and media alike seem to prefer that family-friendly image of spectators with happy smiling faces; young attractive, sometimes painted faces with women and children in healthy abundance.
And, before anyone has a go at me for being a footballing luddite, I’m not objecting to that at all. Football might be our game but that ‘our’ is as in the biggest collective imaginable. It’s for everyone and rightly so.
But I do think that the rise and rise of the football watching demographic is pushing that original spectating hardcore out of the game – and that as much as football is the peoples game, the game for everyone and anyone, not everyone and anyone can necessarily afford to watch it anymore.
With that, for me, a part of the game has died and will, in all probability, never return. Football’s gentrification has, in many ways, been a good thing. But it hasn’t, I don’t think, been for the total good of the game. And this might just be me – but I don’t see much wit at the football anymore. No character, no personality, no repartee and certainly no banter between fans – never mind between the opposing sets of fans, I don’t see it much within our own ranks, indeed, we seem now more likely to want to verbally joust or fight with one another than we would have wanted to have done with the opposition.
Maybe the day of the ‘true’ football fan has gone. We’re now seen, after all, as customers, even, and I shudder at the use of the word in this context, ‘consumers’. Football has become dearly departed from the simple game that it once was. It is now a product and we are the consumers who choose to support said product. Thus expectations have gone through the roof.
Think about it. The minute you have the iPhone 4 you want the iPhone 5. And as soon as you have that then the reviews of the ‘new and improved’ iPhone 6 begin. And you want one of those so bad that it hurts. And so on and so on. Into, as Buzz Lightyear would say, infinity – and beyond. There are, nor will there ever be, any limits or barriers to greed.
And so it has been with the football.
The minute we were in League One – and, in all honesty, fortunate to even exist, we all wanted nothing more than to have a team to support. Then we dared to want to be back in the Championship. But once we were back there the demands and expectations changed and we all wanted to get back into the Premier League. Once we were there we wanted to stay put and, in time, spend the sort of money that would have been maybe a couple of season’s total budget for Dave Stringer on just one player. The more we had, the more we wanted. And the more we want, the more we demand, the more we have – the more we expect. And nothing, in the entire history of this club, has even come remotely close to those expectations that surround this season, Premier League III.
Expectations which haven’t so much gone through the roof as, for some, broken out of earth orbit and started making their way towards the stars.
Expectations which have manifested this season in the constant grizzle that seems to be coming from some parts of our support for whom, one way or another, nothing is, or has, been right since day one. And, as far as they are concerned, the person who should take responsibility for those expectations being dashed is Chris Hughton.
And this was never more embarrassingly demonstrated than it was at the weekend when the cries of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rang around Carrow Road in response to the manager replacing Gary Hooper with Johan Elmander with around twenty minutes to go.
Might I suggest that, in this instance, the only people who do not know what they are doing are that vocal minority who are chanting it in the first place? As one critic of the game has since observed, whilst we – or anyone – have every right to wonder at a manager’s reasoning when any decision is made, we certainly do not have the right, experience or knowledge to credibly challenge the experience and acumen that he has got; accrued in his career in order to be entrusted with the job in the first place.
In Monday’s (28/10) edition of the Pink Un, Chris Hughton felt obliged to explain his thinking behind that substitution. It sounded reasonable, sensible and logical and one carried out in the best interests of the player involved, the team and the game as a whole. Yet the way people have gone on about it, I almost wondered if he was going to be expected to issue a formal apology and promise never to do it again.
The game has, of course, moved on since those days of my Canary supporting youth in the mid-1980s. And it had to. Hillsborough, Heysel and the Valley Parade disasters all pointed to a sport that was being played in, for the main, antiquated surroundings where very little regard was held for the supporter; this matching the attitude that Margaret Thatcher had for us all at the time. The game was dying on its feet and she would have been amongst the first to dance on its grave, of that I have little doubt.
So yes, change was overdue, both in attitudes and infrastructure – and not a moment too soon in many cases. Sadly, however, as the game has moved on, so has the demands of the spectator and so has, it would seem, a lot of the fun that there was to be had in going to the game and supporting your team.
Fun has been replaced by the need for instant gratification and reward. It’s as if the only reason to go to the game is to see the team win. Everything else is peripheral, secondary, insignificant even. Nothing else matters other than those three points at around 4:55pm and the total of around 40 of those points by the end of April. The thought of defeat is unthinkable. The prospect of relegation terrifying. No wonder it sometimes doesn’t feel like fun anymore – because there’s too much at stake for it to be fun.
Or so it seems. Yet, despite all of that, try to stop me going. No chance. Talk about contradictions. Football, as Sir Alex Ferguson has been known to say. Bloody hell.
Bloody hell indeed.
I’m curious to know what other people think, particularly those who have been going to see Norwich for many years. How does it compare, the matchday experience and your expectations now, those of the club in general, the players and the manager compared to say, how it felt just before the formation of the Premier League or even the seventies and beyond that. Did it feel different then? Was it more – well, fun? Was there less expectation to deliver?
And did anyone ever try to tell Ron Saunders that he didn’t know what he was doing?