For the football fan who has everything, how about a football funeral? I never knew there were such things, until last week. While watching a Birmingham City home game, I noticed a big advert round the side of the pitch saying footballfunerals.something. I didn't quite catch it, but luckily I was watching Match of the Day on Sky Plus. I whizzed back, paused and got the website.
The scheme is run by Midlands Co-op Funeral Services, which for the past eight years has had an arrangement with Birmingham City. It provides three levels of funeral options, "enabling you to create a funeral for your loved one that reflects the passion in their life".
A bronze funeral costs £100 and you get the club flag draped over the coffin, the cortège pauses as it goes past St Andrew's stadium, and your name is inscribed on a brick outside the stadium. The silver, price £175, adds a wreath in the club colours. With the gold, at £199, your ashes are interred at St Andrew's.
Your ashes don't get scattered on the pitch - clubs are not keen on that. Instead, they dig a plug of turf around the side, shove in the ashes, then replace the plug. Being caring and thoughtful, the Co-op tries to dig as near as possible to where the deceased had his season-ticket seat. Bless.
“We have found that football fans are the most devout people," says Brian Hill, the manager of Midlands Co-op Funeral Services, which also offers motorbike funerals - the hearse is a black motorbike with the coffin in the sidecar - but these are not quite so popular. Each year, on average, 70-100 Birmingham fans have a Co-op football funeral.
A couple of months ago, similar rights were secured for Derby County fans, but they have not been quite so enthusiastic. Some have described it as sick, others as commercialisation gone mad. Quite a few have taken the piss: "Derby till I die - oops, I just did." One Derby fan asked: if I go for the top funeral, will Nigel Clough himself press the button in the crematorium?
The price of a football funeral is extra, on top of the normal fees, but as Hill points out, the average funeral these days costs £2,500, so it is not much more to throw in a football element. I quite fancy it myself, but can't decide where my ashes should go. Hampden Park, as I so loved Scotland as a boy? Brunton Park, home of the world-famous Carlisle United? Or White Hart Lane? Spurs already have my blood and tears.
When my father-in-law died, we scattered his ashes over the sweet-pea bed in our Lakeland garden, as they were his favourite flower. They immediately died. But the following year, they came up twice as good and have been flourishing since. That's probably why clubs don't like raw ashes on the pitch.
These days, it would be a stupid thing to do anyway. At Wembley, they dig up the turf every week and replace it. Where does the old turf go
and what then happens to any precious ashes? God knows.