Offside, 18 November

In praise of the tannoy shock jocks.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

Football fans normally chant the name of a star player or a talismanic manager but never the PA announcer. The lowly tannoy man, with his cheesy Smashy and Nicey delivery and dismal taste in music, is more likely to be a figure of fun than a terrace hero. But, after Charlton Athletic sacked PA announcer Brian Cole last month, Addicks fans started chanting his name in protest.

Cole was sacked for mocking the travelling Crystal Palace fans with what can only be described as playground taunts. He referred to the visitors as ‘Crystal Palarse’ (Geddit? Bet you split your sides laughing too) and ‘this lot’ and deliberately mispronounced Palace players’ names. Following complaints from Palace officials, Cole was relieved of his duties at half time. Cole subsequently issued a contrite apology but it wasn’t enough to get him reinstated. Perhaps, as part of Cole’s rehabilitation, he should be dispatched Boris Johnson-style to Croydon’s Whitgift Centre to apologise in person to the affronted townsfolk and learn about their historic suffering, ie, the Crystal Palace fire of 1936, the bombing of Croydon aerodrome by the Luftwaffe, and Croydon being ranked Britain’s fifteenth crappest town by the Idler magazine.

I wasn’t at the Charlton game myself – it was only a Carling Cup tie after all – but I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Palace fans are accustomed to sad and puerile attempts by our London rivals to ridicule us. Millwall chairman Theo Paphitis last year referred to us in his programme notes as ‘Crippled Alice’ and the ‘Beagles’ and dubbed our ground ‘Smellhurst Park’. If anyone seriously imagines that we would take umbrage at such jibes, I can only assume they haven’t yet reached puberty or else are a bit remedial.

Charlton’s treatment of Brian Cole stands in stark contrast to Cardiff City’s refusal to punish their own tannoy announcer for poking fun at West Ham fans. PA man Ali Yassine welcomed the Hammers to Ninian Park by playing what the Sun described as ‘a series of mickey taking records’ that included London Bridge is Falling Down, the theme from Steptoe and Son and Lonnie Donegan’s rendition of My Old Man’s A Dustman. He also issued a request for ‘the owner of a shire horse and rag-and-bone cart to return to his vehicle immediately’.

Yassine rejected accusations that his pre-match entertainment had been inflammatory. ‘When has Lonnie Donegan ever been blamed for football hooliganism?’ he retorted. West Ham officials, to their credit, saw the funny side. ‘We don’t have an issue with this’, said a spokesman for the London club. ‘In fact we find it quite amusing.’

No doubt there are some supporters of a delicate disposition who regard partisan PA announcements as football’s equivalent of hate speech. You’ll usually find these morons on football phone-in programmes complaining about inflammatory goal celebrations. Most football fans, however, can take a bit of name-calling. The ritual trading of insults is, after all, an essential part of the match-day experience. If we can take banter from the opposing fans we can certainly put up with PA announcers winding us up.

Yet, time and again, PA men are sacked for off-message announcements. Swindon Town’s PA announcer Peter Lewis famously criticised referee Graham Barber for sending off player-manager Steve McMahon. ‘I’ve seen some crap refereeing decisions in my time, but that’s the worst’, raged Lewis. Priceless (and, in Peter Lewis’ case, jobless too). Another casualty of the killjoy culture was Celtic DJ ‘Tiger’ Tim Stevens who lost his job after calling for a minute’s silence at half-time ‘in memory of Old Firm rivals, Rangers’, who had just been knocked out of the European Cup by Levski Sofia.

Personally, I love it when PA announcers depart from their staple hospital radio repertoire of birthday dedications and soft rock anthems to take a pop at the opposition. When the Addicks last visited Selhurst Park, Palace’s tannoy man Rob Fox jokingly asked the owner of a caravan to move his vehicle – a reference to Charlton’s ‘pikey’ reputation. I’m not sure if any Charlton fans complained – perhaps they were too busy heading for the car park to stop their homes being towed away.

I think that tannoy shock jocks should be positively encouraged. If football is ‘war minus the shooting’ then inflammatory PA announcements should be seen as part of psychological operations. Remember US troops blasting loud rock music to drive General Noriega out of the papal nuncio’s residence? There are clear parallels with Liverpool’s PA man playing Arrividerci Roma during a UEFA cup clash against Roma in February 2001. Italian officials and journalists were reportedly outraged but I reckon it’s a legitimate tactic. Minus the shooting it may be, but it’s war nonetheless.

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Topics Politics


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