Regular readers will know that I’ve taken a relatively relaxed position on these pages over van Persie’s transfer to Manchester United. It’s not because my grey matter is filled with light jazz and barbiturates (may contain traces, but not filled). I don’t believe that a veneer of sangfroid makes me superior. Certainly not. It’s my good looks and unyielding ball skills that appoint me to a loftier position of being than thou.
It’s also not because I “appreciate where van Persie was coming from” or that I feel he has been vindicated by his league title win or any of that old rubbish. (I probably do in some part of my psyche that shall continue to gather dust). Let’s face it, 99% of the people that use that argument do so because they’re desperate to administer a steel toe capped DM to the testes of the club they support at every opportunity.
My reason, I guess, is that I still view football in much the same way I did when I was a child. I still like to see it as an absorbing, but ultimately fun, pastime. I like to think I possess more knowledge and certainly more experience in my advancing years. Tactical nuances, in game fluctuations, exactly why you shouldn’t start chanting “1-0 to the Arsenal” at the opposing fans when we’ve just conceded a corner. But at its core, I just can’t be doing with the genuine vitriol in my everyday life. It’s not really in me. Maybe that reveals a deeper character flaw.
I do dig the pantomime villainy though. Especially inside football stadia. Because that conforms with one of the valuable edicts you are handed down as a young football fan. The sacred rule that “they” are cunts and “we” are not. Shortly before the Norwich game, as I dashed through the concourse towards the toilets, I heard a fan of about 5 or 6 years old look up at his Dad and say, “How do you know he’s any good Dad?” To which the father replied, “Because he plays for Arsenal son.”
I don’t even know which player had aroused the young lad’s curiosities but that’s exceptional parenting. That boy has the rest of his life to be cynical, po-faced and embittered. He’s being psychologically coached into the idea that Arsenal are the dog’s sweaty undercarriage and all others can eat catshit kebabs. Once he’s a little older and a little wiser, he’ll learn how to do objectivity, rationality and magnanimity. They come with experience and with a dash of good parenting. (I already have the utmost faith in this particular father given that one utterance I overheard whilst making haste for the khazi).
For a fan, the idea that your football club is to be cherished above all else should be congenital. Obviously it becomes more complex than that. I’d rather hope that had the boy that asked his father for his opinion on, let’s say Giroud, in his teenage years, that the father might have tantalised the boy’s critical palate a little more. “I think he’s good at holding up the ball and that the other attacking players enjoy playing with him, but I get the impression he’d struggle to finish his dinner. What do you think, son?”
I’d also rather hope that he’d sit the little chap down and tell him that, while football’s all fun and games and we all get a totes emosh about it once in a while, your team’s ‘honour’ isn’t an acceptable reason to kick people’s teeth in. In time, maturity should see that blend of rationality (yes, even though he plays for my team, I recognise that the captain racially abusing an opponent isn’t really on and I can’t defend him for that), objectivity (hmmmm, our £50m striker tries bless him, but he’s not really that good) and tribalism (#WE’RE BY FAR THE GREATEST TEAM, THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN AND IT’S…….#) can co exist healthily. But “my team is special because it is special to me” is football supporting 101 as far as I’m concerned.
Especially when inside a stadium. As much as I don’t particularly enjoy moralising on the subject of football chanting, it is why I do feel uneasy about the “she said no” chant oft aimed at van Persie this year. Even swerving the moral jungle, he was (falsely) accused of that crime in 2005 and we continued to employ him for seven years thereafter, so it reflects poorly on us from a pure logistical standpoint as much as anything else. I guess it also stands contrary to the childlike prism through which I see the game.
There’s much about being at a football game that is beautifully childish. We would all inherently shout “WAY-HEY!” when a referee falls over or the linesman drops his flag, which is hardly the hallmark of adult decorum. It’s not even really that funny when you think about it. Being inside those walls is different somehow. It doesn’t insulate you from common decency or the laws of the land, but it does cocoon you from some of the more mundane discourses of adult life. A child would laugh at an authority figure losing his footing on an uneven surface, so for 90 minutes, we can too.
We live in a society now where everybody has a platform upon which to broadcast opinion. We all own a little piece of digital soapbox upon which to stride. This has led to an exponential increase in the habit of moral lecturing. Given the tone of this blog, maybe it’s hypocritical for me to address to that very practice with this article. Maybe it’s perfectly apt. I’ll let you be the arbiter of that. The club of course, has a duty to execute the traditional courtesy of the guard of honour on Sunday. They’ll do it because it’s the right thing to do and because they’re paid professionals.
We can but hope it stings their pride enough to inject an extra 2 or 3% into their performance. They’re professionals but I certainly wouldn’t want to neutralise the revenge gene or for their pride to be quelled by diplomacy. I want the guard of honour to pain them and for them to channel that into their performance. Come 6pm on Sunday, I want to know it hurt them. Yet ultimately, they ought to respect the guard of honour as club ambassadors and because they don’t really have any choice.
When it comes to the supporters, we don’t have to stand and applaud cordially or congratulate van Persie or acknowledge that he was right or any of the other rubbish I have seen suggested this week. We don’t have to be big or diplomatic. Unless you want to contribute to the price of my ticket (it’s a category A match, so best cancel your other weekend plans, eh?), don’t tell me, don’t tell us what we should think and how we should feel.
Robin van Persie left Arsenal for Manchester United via one of the most abhorrent public statements you could wish to read. When we’re inside the ground in service of our team, we don’t have to see it in any more complex terms than that. That makes him wrong and us right. I’m sure as a professional and, in truth, as something of a winner, van Persie won’t much care about the reaction he will face. But come 4pm on Sunday, he’ll be met with a hot reception from the supporters. He’ll get one from me too. Because that’s what the little boy inside of me wants. LD.
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