There is a pestilence sweeping through our beautiful game that has to be stamped out before it spreads any further
Forget diving; forget shirttugging; forget, even, the lack of respect for referees (oh, you had forgotten that one). This particular virus has been incubating for some time now, but it reached epidemic proportions earlier this year and it must be eradicated before it kills a precious new season at birth.
Such is the threat to Association Football itself that I today call on all the governing bodies to set aside their differences and work together to introduce the game’s 18th law – one which prohibits people crying in public before, during or after a game.
I’m a reasonable man. In line with UK statute governing the age of criminal responsibility, anyone under 10 will be exempt from punishment if they are caught sobbing on camera as their heroes are relegated. I am even prepared to extend this amnesty to juveniles as a whole if one of the “heroes” concerned is seen on a mobile to their agent seeking a transfer before the final whistle has sounded. But that’s it.
And, tearful Blackpool fans please note, there is a significant difference between being relegated and failing to secure promotion through the play-offs – particularly if your miserable little club is unable to sell its allocation of tickets and then refuses to make those unsold seats available to ticketless opposition supporters who would have walked barefoot to get to a Wembley final.
Weeping is not the West Ham way (except perhaps when you see how much Messrs Gold and Sullivan have upped the price of tickets again). Did we cry when we were hammered 6-0 by Man Utd in the FA Cup? We did not. We thanked our Mancunian hosts for their hospitality and went about our business whistling cheerful Cockney ditties. Did we cry when we were humiliated by the same score in the Premiership at Reading? We did not. We offered our brave lads some heartfelt and constructive advice instead. Did we cry when we were cheated of a proper game by that conceited imbecile Keith Hackett at Villa Park? I think you get my drift.
But log on to YouTube and you’ll see lachrymose supporters from all corners of the country wiping away the tears as their hopes of going up/staying up/winning something (delete where not applicable) vanish before their very moist eyes. I will confidently predict now that, come May, there will be TV footage aplenty of Swansea supporters welling up as they return to the Championship after enduring a serious dose of second season syndrome. (Mind you, I’m not very good at this prediction lark. When Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party I cheerfully told anyone who would listen that the Tories would never win an election again. Which is probably why most of the country’s leading bookmakers send me a Christmas card every year.)
This sobbing business is a relatively new phenomenon. When football was only ever played in black and white, supporters – as the Pathe newsreels will testify – would spin their rattles and throw their fl at caps in the air when they won. And, if they lost, they’d merely shrug their shoulders, go home in an orderly fashion, and beat seven kinds of crap out of the missus. Not that anyone condones domestic violence, of course. But there has to be a better way of taking defeat than boohooing in public.
The whole thing reached its nadir last year when Man City fan John Millington was seen sobbing as his multi-squillion pound team went down to the Swans because he thought they’d blown their title chances. They still had 10 games to go for – well, I was going to say “crying out loud”, but we’re trying to man up here so I’ll go with “pity’s sake” instead. At first, Mr Millington denied he was blubbing. “I wasn’t crying, I was just frustrated and very tired. There may have been a tear in my eye but I was just exhausted and frustrated,” he was quoted as saying in Metro.
But later he went on to claim that his failure to maintain a stiff upper lip during the Premiership run-in was actually wot won it for Citeh. He told the Manchester Evening News: “I really think it made the difference. Mancini said they had to win it for me and I think the players realised that. They saw me in tears and realised what it meant to all the City fans. United’s players must have seen it too and it seems to have put the pressure on them. I like to think I started the mind games back then and it seems to have done the trick.”
Don’t you just love a Manc! The crying game took an even more bizarre twist during the Euros, when a German woman was shown on telly supposedly in tears because the Fatherland had been rinsed by Italy in the semis. She later complained, saying the footage was misleading because it had been shot earlier and she was actually crying when the teams came out.
What sort of excuse is that? Blimey, I’ve often wanted to cry when I’ve seen the teams come out at Upton Park, particularly when Allan McKnight and David Kelly were in the same side. But you don’t, do you? It’s just not the done thing. And the reason you don’t want other people seeing the tracks of your tears over something as trivial as a lost game (or even a lost battle against relegation) is that, as at all clubs, there are the occasional moments of shared grief that truly warrant an open show of emotion.
Bill Shankly famously once said that football is more important than life and death. A great quote, but nonsense nonetheless. Which is why I shed a tear when I heard that Bobby Moore had been finally nutmegged by cancer (and another when I saw the tributes outside the main gates in Green Street), but merely confine myself to kicking the cat and reprogramming the satnav when we go down. Most of us will have more personal memories of friends and family who no longer join us in the never-ending search for hidden fortune but still cause us occasionally to glance towards the heavens with misty eyes when things do go well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to depress the hell out of everyone here. I love those bitter-sweet moments – they are part of what makes being a Hammer so special for me.
But if you see me dabbing the old mince pies with a tissue when we’ve just gone one-down against the likes of Scunthorpe in the League Cup please take the time and trouble to wrap a boot round my head and show me the exit. The explanation’s simple: I’m West Ham ’til I cry.