Friday, 21 October 2016

Match Report

Match Report: Bristol Rovers vs Gillingham, League One, 15/10/2016

When I was a young lad playing for my local football team, our manager tried to encourage us not to swear during games.  She did this by suggesting we could use safe alternative words, so instead of shouting “fuck!” in frustration, we could say “fudge”.  Being around 12 (if I remember right), we didn’t take this particularly seriously, although we did make a small effort not to swear when the manager was within earshot.  Otherwise, we were as sweary as ever – but even if we toned it down when the manager was with us, I suppose the idea of changing the culture of the team had some limited success.
During a training session in which we trialled some alternative exclamations, I shouted “Fudgepacker”.  Really really loud.  Not at anyone, just as a sort of anguished cry at my own inability to control the ball or something.  I shouted it without thinking about it – if I had thought about it, I would have known it was something I shouldn’t shout out loud in polite company, but I wouldn’t really have known why.  
My shout triggered a long talk about homophobia for the whole team, and I felt like a dick – for saying it, and for causing my team-mates to have to listen to the lecture.  And that dissipated after the lecture when the really (deliberately) homophobic language was used.  Which led me to realise I hadn’t known what the word meant at all.
I thought of myself as being anti-prejudice and cool, so I didn’t like the language some of my team mates used, but I wasn’t brave enough to argue against it.  I thought it was pretty cool that we had a female manager (very very rare at that level of football at that time.  A rare record indeed.  Numbered limited edition mint-condition Japanese import, with a typo, on blue vinyl and with a free signed poster type of rare), but I didn’t have the courage to tell other people to fuck off when they made the usual jokes about it.
(Of course, there were a lot of things going on in my mind: the conflict between my instinctive dislike for all authority figures and my love of football and empathy both for the person in question, and for her position as a lone female in a male-dominated environment; the conflict between my hatred for authority in general and my love of football – and my recognition that without volunteers/authority figures to run the club, there would be no games at the weekend; my precocious grasp of the English language against my obvious lack of understanding of certain adult/slang words and their meaning and function (I couldn’t have explained what the word really meant, even if I knew – it would be too embarrassing); my dislike of prejudice and divisive language against my fear of standing up to it, of being different, and potentially unpopular.  (Teenage boys think about sex a lot, but we shouldn’t assume it’s the only thing they think about.))
Anyway the point is, I find myself at the Memorial stadium, at 3 on a Saturday afternoon, wondering about all this.
Not knowing well enough where to stand (not being with the usual Crew, who always stand in the same place), Maccy B and I go behind the goal, where the view is best.
We see a steward in the section we’ve chosen, and aren’t sure why, until the place fills up a bit as the game is about to start.  We are surrounded by the rowdiest, loudest fans.  They jump about, make loads of funny chants and songs, are abusive to opposing fans and the home team’s city rivals, take the piss out of each other – and are occasionally genuinely funny and entertaining.  The stewards are there to watch them, it seems, and they make a lot of jokes about getting kicked out and how you aren’t allowed to swear.  While swearing (#bantz).  They are a bit funny and a bit knob-headed and generally fun.  Some people would probably find them intimidating.  Potentially dangerous, enjoyable, teeming with possibilities….like all big crowds.
Judging purely by appearances, they range from 8 to 14 years old.
And now we know why The Usual Crew don’t stand right behind the goal.
At one point, they begin a full-on mosh, jumping around the terraces, shoving each other (and whoever is nearby – me, in this case) and having great fun.
(Incidentally, speaking of moshing:  I went to a punk gig the night before the game – not something I do often these days, but a friend’s band were playing and I’d never seen them, so I checked it out.  Sorry to sound like your/my Dad, but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying…although I saw a few people I know, and was recognised by a few people I didn’t know, which was nice. 
One person who recognised me had just received some good legal news, so I bought us a drink to toast with (after a friend had lifted him up on shoulders to celebrate.)  I kept my counsel on the legal issue, about which I remain ambivalent.  Later he found a fiver on the floor and bought us a tequila with it.  Nice fella. 
Another person I recognised was my friend P, who is a kick-ass drummer.  His band played (not the friend or the band I was there to see, so a pleasant surprise all round) and they were very loud and fast and not really my kind of thing (not that I don’t like loudfast music in general, just this particular loudfast stuff wasn’t my sort of thing). 
The swarm of humanity at the gig was good fun – irresistible, in fact.  Potentially dangerous, enjoyable, teeming with possibilities….like all big crowds.
Later, outside, on being asked about a false idol, I speculated that all idols are false.  The man I was chatting to said “Good question”.  I think that’s what I said, but it was late and I had been drinking, so really can’t be sure.  Anyway, that’s what happened, according to my notes, such as they are.  Maybe I took notes because I knew I wouldn’t remember.  I’m not sure now why I wanted to remember.  Because I didn’t make a note of that at the time.
It was good fun being part of a crowd again, and made me think about crowds; the dangerous allure, the terrifying power, the confluence of democracy and mob rule (what’s the difference?  The passage of the Representation of the People Act 1832 (known popularly at the time (and since) as The Great Reform Act) was greeted with horror by the Landed Gentry, which suggests it was good for everyone else; one of the arguments against extending suffrage and parliamentary representation was that it would lead to mob rule – ie, democracy….the extent to which it did was, of course, arguable.  But really, what is the difference between the two?  These are the kinds of things I think about at punk gigs.  Or football matches.)
One of the chants that you might hear a lot at English football matches is to the tune of a song known as The Billy Boys.  The local version begins “Hello! Hello! We are the Rovers Boys!”  The original begins “Hello! Hello! We are the Billy Boys!” and goes on to delight in being “up to our knees in Fenian blood”.  For those who don’t know, “fenian” is a term derived from a group of Irish revolutionaries from the 19th century, now mostly used (in Scotland and Ireland, at least) as a term of abuse for Irish/Catholic people. 
Can a tune be offensive?  These Rovers fans aren’t singing about “fenians”, of course, but to hear this song at an English football ground is a bit odd to those familiar with the original.  The assumption is that the chanters here don’t know the origin of the tune.  I really really hope the assumption is correct and it’s just a question of ignorance.  Because if.  They know.  Their history…
For the record (no pun), I don’t think tunes are offensive or inoffensive, just well written or badly written.  That’s all.
But they’re not necessarily neutral either.  They can be used to denote things that are offensive; like words, they are (almost) never offensive regardless of context. 
Almost as if to weigh in on these ruminations, another chant goes up, with the following line:  “Fuck the City and the IRA”. 
I joke to Maccy B:  “We all hate City, but what have these lads got against the IRA?”  Really, all of these kids look like they were born after the Good Friday Agreement.  There is a tradition of English football fans singing about the IRA, but it’s usually been at England games in the 90s as an odd response to a disbanded terrorist organisation involved in a conflict with Britain about which most British people seem to know almost nothing.  So, you know…it’s probably not too unfair an assumption to make: most of these kids know absolutely shit all about the IRA or the conflict in Ireland. 
Maybe it doesn’t need to make sense because #bantz #LADSLADSLADS. 
Maybe it’s just repeating words or phrases without understanding them, like young people might do when trying to integrate themselves into adult society…
A bit like shouting “FUDGEPACKER” really loud, in public.
On the way home, Maccy B and I have an interesting discussion about football and he makes the excellent point that “football is about belonging”; most of us can enjoy some rivalry without getting carried away, but the rivalry is integral to the popularity of the game.  And belonging to these big crowds often means we come up close to ideas, opinions, songs – or even people – with whom we would otherwise rather not be associated. 
Anyway, in the end-up, justice prevails when Rovers edge it 2-1 with a last-minute winner.

1 comment:

  1. Just to clarify: you're happy that the Billy Boys prevailed.