A manifesto for badly-behaved football
Free supporters, let players be players, and lose the fancy dress.
As a rule I don’t think football and politics mix. But since it’s general election time, I’ve decided to draft an Offside manifesto. Before I outline my election policies I’d like to make one thing clear: football cannot and should not be a vehicle for making a good society. It is just a spectator sport that provides a 90-minute respite from the daily grind every weekend. My proposals are not designed to solve social problems – my only concern is to make football more enjoyable.
Forget Supporters Direct, the government-funded programme to encourage supporter representation on club boards, I would launch Supporters Unshackled a campaign to free football fans from the killjoy codes of conduct that have proliferated in recent years. When police arrested Middlesborough fan Adrian Carr for falling asleep during a game in 2003 it highlighted the ludicrous degree of petty regulation to which spectators are routinely subjected. Fans can be arrested or ejected for obscene chanting, entering a stadium while drunk, drinking alcohol within sight of the pitch, persistent standing, and running on to the playing area – in other words for doing all the things that exuberant, boisterous fans tend to do. And we wonder why there is a lack of atmosphere in Premiership stadiums! It’s time these puritanical protocols were swept aside.
Let footballers behave badly
Football is a passionate, aggressive, competitive game in which tempers tend to boil over and players frequently square up to each other. None of this is new. What is novel is the strident sermonising that now follows every incident of this type from the ‘Battle of the Buffet’, when Arsenal players pelted Fergie with pizza, to the recent ‘Slog on the Tyne’ in which Newcastle team-mates Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer came to blows.
Invariably we are told that footballers are role models for children. Earlier this year the Secondary Heads Association called for football highlights to be shown after the 9pm watershed to protect children from the sight of Wayne Rooney and co mouthing obscenities. I say bollocks to that. It is our job as parents to bring up our children and it’s Wayne Rooney’s job to entertain us. Ideally we’d like to see goals but if we can’t have goals we’ll settle for a punch up. The occasional mass brawl is not particularly edifying but you’ve got to admit that it’s tremendous fun to watch. So please stop pretending that the social fabric is being eroded and let’s just sit back and enjoy the argy-bargy.
Kick fancy dress out of football
Now I’m a pretty tolerant person, but there are some types of behaviour that ought to have no place in a football stadium. Mexican waves are a particularly bugbear of mine but even more deplorable is the shameless wearing of fancy dress. Balloons, face paint, silly costumes, and novelty wigs used to make an appearance only on special occasions such as a cup final or the last day of the season.
There is also some merit in the occasional use of theatrical props to wind up the opposition, such as Manchester United fans wearing Cantona masks for the visit to Crystal Palace. But apart from these exceptional circumstances, fancy dress at routine league games is utterly inexcusable. For example, last Saturday at Selhurst Park I saw a large group of Norwich fans wearing yellow and green afro-wigs. As far as I’m concerned that sort of attire sends out all the wrong signals. By wearing ‘whacky’ wigs with six games left to play in the season the Norwich fans were effectively saying: ‘We know we’re a joke club that doesn’t belong in the Premiership so we’re just going to enjoy the ride while it lasts.’
I don’t know what’s worse; the wannabe football hooligans kitted out in regulation Stone Island and Burberry or the clowns who turn up in jester’s hats and face paint. A plague on both their houses I reckon. I’m not suggesting that fancy dress should be banned from football grounds but anyone wearing a novelty hat or wig should be ostracised by fellow supporters. Turn your back on them when they walk into a pub or mutter ‘shame’ as they pass you on the street and eventually they will get the message. If you want to dress up in silly costumes and paint your face then go and join a circus. It is time to rid football of the scourge of buffoonery.
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