Seeing red: a plane towing a banner flies over Old Trafford. The former Man United manager was sacked on 22 April. Photo: Getty
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“Wrong One – Moyes Out” read the plane’s banner

Football fans have always had a keen sense of the ridiculous. 

Fans just want to have fun. Which is why I watched the Man United-Aston Villa game live on telly, purely to see the aeroplane. What aeroplane, you ask? Not the one in the Indian Ocean?

It was an expensive stunt by some disgruntled Man U fans who’d hired a plane to fly over the stadium towing a banner which read “Wrong One – Moyes Out”. The rotten TV people never showed the plane, not on my set, they didn’t, but it did happen, oh yes.

“Wrong One – Moyes Out” was a witty reference to “The Chosen One”, which it says on a huge banner inside the ground, put up at the start of the season when Moyes was anointed. It is now protected by the club, in case of vandalism.

I also missed the open-top bus parade Newcastle fans had organised before last week’s home game, with the crowds encouraged to wave and cheer and hoot their horns. It was called the Magical Misery Tour, to celebrate in style Newcastle’s utterly boring, utterly pathetic, miserable season.

Footballs fans, since it all began, have had a keen sense of the ridiculous. That’s why for at least a hundred years, on the really big occasions, they have always dressed up in really silly clothes. If you look at photos of Cup final crowds, even before the Cup final moved to Wembley in 1923, you will see fans in funny hats, frocks and trousers, with painted faces, outsize umbrellas, rosettes, rattles, inflated fruit and objects such as hammers. (Signifying West Ham supporters: do concentrate.)

It was best when it was a north-south game, as it so often was, with the northern hordes coming down to make a whole day of it with their families, probably never coming to London again in their lifetime, parading around Piccadilly, showing off their fancy favours.

Look out for similar exhibitionism at the World Cup when fans of the different nations will paint their faces and wear stupid clothes. The reason this sort of thing mostly happens at big games such as Cup finals is that it is a Big Game. Fans are so pleased to be there, win or lose, determined to enjoy themselves.

Taking the piss out of your club also has a long history. In 1910, if you rang the HQ of Barnsley (telephone number 320) you heard hee haw, hee haw, hee haw, which was the sound of Amos, a donkey, the club’s mascot. I have a photograph of Amos, with a supporter sitting on him, taken outside the Clarence Hotel, on which there is a plaque saying “Headquarters of the Barnsley Football Club”. I suspect it was just the HQ of the Supporters’ Club. All the same, a good wheeze.

Gallows humour also goes back a long way. Among my 500 or so football postcards are some In Memoriam cards from the 1900s. They were joke versions of real In Memoriams and were very popular at the time, sold after vital Cup matches. They came complete with black borders, showing a horse-drawn funeral cortège, with some lines underneath in memory of the “deceased”, ie, the defeated team.

They sold so well that enterprising printers would produce two versions before the game, mourning the defeat of either team.

I have one dated 5 March 1910, nicely laid out,with some elaborate printing, which has the headline:

 

In Memory of
MANCHESTER CITY,
who fell at The County
Ground, Swindon, fighting for the ENGLISH CUP . . .

 

Below is the touching verse:

 

Bury Manchester City,
Their day is over and done,
Sing them a little sad ditty,
And cheer for the team
    
that won.
Oh don’t you think ’twas
    
rather a pity
You came to Swindon,
Manchester City.

 

The bottom of the card reads: “Funeral arrangements by GWR”, meaning Great Western Railway. I was so amused by this that I went mad and bought it at a Sotheby’s auction for £100. (The price is a secret, by the way; no one in this house knows.)

Fans have to have fun – otherwise you’d spend half your time in tears . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

Photo: Getty Images
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The barbecue that shows that Jeremy Corbyn is inevitable

Labour's been a long time dying, says Neal Lawson.

Just sometimes you spot something small and throw away which crystalizes something much bigger and really profound.  It happened recently about the future of the Labour Party, tucked away in the letters page of the Guardian. Steven Pound the MP for Ealing North shared his concerns about the influx of new, presumably Corbyn voting, members. 

The worry was this – only two of the 43 invited new members could be bothered to turn up for a barbecue and social. There it was, in a tiny chicken nugget, all you needed to know about why the Labour Party is a vehicle out of time and place and so ripe for the Corbyn Surge.

Let’s unpick the BBQ, the new members and their seeming reluctance to show up. The first thing that’s screams at anyone vaguely normal is why on earth would you want to go to a BBQ being organized by the Labour Party – when presumably you could go to a real one, with real friends.  There is a give away – it’s a “barbecue and social” – ie a barbecue where you have to be social – where you have to told to be social as if that weren’t a given. Does the Labour Party or anyone have BBQs that are unsocial?  When you decode it, what it means is come and pretend that Labour is ‘with it’ – that being a member is a deep cultural and social experience – when everyone knows it isn’t.

The Labour Party has been a front for years – a front for a technocratic and managerial elite who like to tell everyone what’s good for them and that they must suck up almost as many right wing ideas and polices as the Tories are offering to be in office.  And the party, in desperation and with nothing else on offer, had to go along with it. 

 Of course people get bored of being used and eventually despise knowing that all the party was doing was slowing the rate at which the poor got poorer and the planet burnt – that meetings were meaningless because all the real decisions were being made elsewhere. But the elite still needed the legitimacy of plastic members and their leaflets wouldn’t deliver themselves.  So the foot soldiers had to be given something – so why not a BBQ – that will show Labour has changed – that the party has deep roots and bags of fun. But it’s a scam. A Quorn sausage when only meat will do. Because we all know that really the elite want to read out the minutes and the matters arising from the last BBQ, to be Minister for burgers and the secretary of state for baked potato’s.

But its stopped working. What the Ealing 41 refusniks tell us is that they didn’t previously join Labour because there was no point.  Modestly humanized neo-liberalism, even with a BBQ and social, is not enough. A party still rooted in the culture of the last century – the factory - with no democracy and little connection to the governing norms of the 21st century – that of Facebook – was not attractive to them.

The surge around Jeremy Corbyn changed all that – Labour became interesting for the fist time despite everything about it – its elitism, its awful compromises, its lack of hope or belief in the best in people – only the worst (I’m really resisting German sausage jokes here).

The Pound letter ends with the chilling warning that maybe all these people had joined for was to get Jeremy Corbyn elected in the hope for something better. As if that’s wasn’t good enough – surely they understand there are more BBQs to be organized?   Cant they join and pretend with us  – vote for the status quo and eat their meat?

 But this is the 21st century. People join and swarm, in a none David Cameron unpejorative way.  Bubbles and waves appear so fast.  Foot free but progressively minded, agile and connected is the way millions of people now are. 400,000 of them have joined Labour since the last election. They will swarm  elsewhere quickly if Corbyn doesn’t win or over time if he fails to understand the nature of these new times.  The party of the past is dead regardless of who becomes Labour's leader.  But these wave of hope and action mean we can still change the world – just without making a meal of it. 

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass and author of the book All Consuming.