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

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What Labour MPs who want to elect the shadow cabinet are forgetting

The idea is to push Jeremy Corbyn to build an ideologically broad team, but it distracts from the real hurdle – management.

Labour MPs who have been critical of Jeremy Corbyn are pushing to vote for shadow cabinet members – rather than having all the posts appointed by the leader.

Most of the parliamentary Labour party who are not Corbyn loyalists believe this should be the “olive branch” he offers them, in order to put his recent words about “unity” and “wiping the slate clean” into action.

Corbyn and his allies have refused to consider such an idea outside of a “wider” democratisation of the party – saying that Labour members should also get a say in who’s on the frontbench. It’s also thought Corbyn is reluctant due to the shadow cabinet having three representatives on the National Executive Committee. He wouldn’t want his opponents voting for those, tipping the balance of the Committee back towards centrists.

Shadow cabinet elections were a longstanding convention for Labour in opposition until Ed Miliband urged the party to vote against them in 2011. Labour MPs on different wings of the party believe a return to the system would avoid Labour’s frontbench being populated solely by Corbyn’s ideological wing.

But there is a complication here (aside from the idea of a party leader having to run an effective opposition with their opponents in key shadow cabinet positions).

Proponents of shadow cabinet elections say they would help to make Labour a broad church. But really they could put those in the “make-it-work” camp who initially helped form Corbyn’s team in a difficult position. Initially conciliatory MPs like Thangam Debonnaire and Heidi Alexander have since left their posts, revealing frustration more at Corbyn’s management style than policy direction. Chi Onwurah MP, who remains a shadow minister, has also expressed such concerns.

One senior Labour MP points out that the problem with shadow cabinet elections lies in those who left Corbyn’s shadow cabinet but had wanted to cooperate – not in bringing ideological opponents into the fold.

“There were lots of people on his team who actually liked Jeremy, and wanted to make policy with him,” they tell me. “And many of them eventually felt they had to leave because of how difficult it was to work with him. They wanted to stay but couldn’t. If people like that couldn’t stay, will they go back? It will be much harder for him to show them he can work differently.”

One of the “make-it-work” faction voices their concern about returning to the shadow cabinet via elections for this reason. “A lot of us [who left] are still really interested in our policy areas and would be happy to help if they asked,” they say. “But it was too difficult to be taken seriously when you were actually in those shadow cabinet meetings.”

My source describes a non-collegiate approach in meetings around the shadow cabinet table, where Corbyn would read out pre-written opening statements and responses when they delivered their ideas. “It was like he wasn’t really listening.”

The plan to reintroduce shadow cabinet elections barely left the ground in a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee on Saturday night, on the eve of Labour conference.

This is in spite of Labour MPs urging the NEC to make a decision on the matter soon. Jon Ashworth, an NEC member and shadow minister, told me shortly after Corbyn’s victory speech that this would be “a good way of bringing people back” in to the team, and was determined to “get some resolution on the issue” soon.

It doesn’t look like we’ll get that yet. But for some who have already tried serving on the frontbench, it’s a distraction from what is for them a management – rather than an ideological – problem.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.