“Wrong One – Moyes Out” read the plane’s banner

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

Seeing red: a plane towing a banner flies over Old Trafford. The former Man United manager was sacked on 22 April. Photo: Getty
Seeing red: a plane towing a banner flies over Old Trafford. The former Man United manager was sacked on 22 April. Photo: Getty

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 . . .

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