These armbands and one-minute silences have got out of hand

<em>In memoriam, the Queen Mother</em> - These armbands and one-minute silences have got out of han

There was a call for one minute's silence for the Queen Mother at the Arsenal-Spurs match on 6 April. As there was everywhere. I turned and made a face at my neighbour in the next seat in the West Stand at Highbury. "Didn't know she was an Arsenal fan," I said. He didn't smile. But then it was a pretty silly remark. He was young, shaven-headed, hung-over looking, one shaky thumb on his mobile.

Over the tannoy came the voice of the Arsenal tannoy voice. A voice I have grown to hate. Nothing to do with being a Spurs fan. It's his phoney, mid-Atlantic DJ accent. "The Queen Mother," he sonorously intoned, "was a much-loved figure around the world."

"In China?" I muttered to my young friend. "In Russia?" He just looked at me. After the one-minute silence, which seemed to last about ten minutes, there was the sound of a scratchy gramophone rendition of the National Anthem.

"Bring back the police," I said. It did look this time as if he might duff me up, should I make any more inane comments. I wasn't thinking of Sting and the Police, but thinking back to 30 years ago, when one of the highlights of going to Highbury was the police band, which played before every game. I did enjoy them. You can't beat live music.

During the one minute for the Queen Mum, I watched all the Arsenal players being dutifully silent - and during the dreadful recording of the British National Anthem, players such as Vieira, Henry, Ljungberg, Edu, Wiltord, Luzhny, Lauren, Bergkamp, all born within the sound of Bow Bells, well, give or take a 10,000-mile radius. They do have good hearing, these modern players. It's the diet that does it.

Did they know what was going on? Would they have recognised the Queen Mum if they'd met her in the wine queue at Safeway? Can they tell "God Save the Queen" from "Good King Wenceslas"? This passion for armbands and one-minute silences is getting out of hand. It was a whole week, after all, since the Queen Mum had died. Is it because it's football? In that case, why didn't the ref and linesmen have armbands, or Arsene Wenger, or the ball boys, or everyone in the crowd? Is it because they were working in front of the public? In that case, did all the West End actors act in armbands all week, or bus drivers, or policemen, or traffic wardens?

I can't remember when this began. In 1952, on the death of George VI, did all footballers wear armbands as a mark of respect? Do tell. They would at least have all been Brit-born players. It seems to happen all the time these days at football grounds - not just remembering national figures, but some obscure football official. At Spurs this season, we all stood for one minute's silence for Glenn Hoddle's dad.

Before the match, I went to lunch again with my Arsenal chums, determined to keep my opinions to myself, not get involved in any arguments, assuming I'd be the only Spurs fan. I found myself beside Melvyn Bragg, so that was safe because, deep down, our first love is Carlisle Utd and I know how he got into following Arsenal (through his son Tom). Beyond him was Simon Schama, the eminent professor, man of parts, most of them dead clever, and he whispered that he'd followed Spurs since he was a boy. That was reassuring.

You have to be clever to follow football these days. I don't understand why it's not a mainstream university subject. There are courses and degrees in pop music or cooking or gardening. Why not football? It should be taught from the beginning in primary schools. It might attract the interest and attention of all those boys who give up on learning at an early age.

Years later, out in the world, many of them become football anoraks, stars of pub quizzes, brainboxes at football facts and figures, yet at school they wouldn't learn nuffink. Any subject is worth learning, for the sake of learning. Football is just as worthy of study as Latin. It has a history, a grammar, a discipline, set texts. Think about it, Estelle Morris.

During the game, I was able to help my young Arsenal friend with a few translations. I could clearly hear the Spurs crowd to my right, tucked into a corner of the Clock End, singing what appeared to be the Arsenal song about Vieira. You know the one. "Vee-ehra, ahh hah ha ha, Vee-ehra. He comes from Seny-gall. He plays for Arsen-all." Sung to the tune of "Volare".

At first, the Arsenal crowd were confounded, trying to work out why Spurs fans were singing their song. The Spurs version is rather vulgar, so look away, if you don't want to know the score.

Vee-ehra, ahh ha ha ha,
Vee-ehra, ahh ha ha ha
He wants to leave the scum
Cos Campbell wants his bum.
Veer-ehra . . .

No, don't go away. For GCSE students of semantics, the word "scum" is interesting, used by both sides about each other. Football scholars who have done their homework will know that there have been reports all season about Vieira leaving. As for Campbell, not true, I'm sure: students of international football can compare and contrast, as the same form of sexual abuse is used throughout the known world at every football ground.

Spurs got beaten, by the way. End of story. End of season. Roll on the World Cup.