Tag Archives: commercialism

Kenyan Man U Fan’s Suicide Harks Back to Famous Shankly Quote – by Rob Atkinson

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Shanks – didn’t really mean it

There are many famous sayings attributed to the late, great Bill Shankly that are still quoted to this day.  Some of them, he even actually said.  The one in the image above seems likely to have been genuine, actually uttered by the great man.  But wherever you hear it quoted, you’ll usually hear a hastily-added qualification too: “He didn’t actually mean it, of course.  It was part of his football-daft image…”  Quite so.  Shankly was football-daft – many are the anecdotes to illustrate this, and again, some of them are based on fact. But Shanks wasn’t daft in the wider sense and, certainly, if he did utter the words above, they’ll have been uttered with tongue firmly in cheek.

All of which sheds awfully little light on the baffling and tragic death in Kenya of local Man U fan John Jimmy Macharia, 23 or 28 (depending on which report you read), who plunged to his death from a multi-storey apartment block in Nairobi after David Moyes’ men suffered a second home defeat in four days, further denting the champions’ chance of retaining the Premier League title. “Macharia jumped from the seventh floor of an apartment at Pipeline Estate after realising that his team Manchester United lost 1-0 to Newcastle at Old Trafford and committed suicide,” Nairobi’s County Police Commander Benson Kibui told Reuters.

Commander Kibui went on to bemoan the role of the English game in this and at least one other suspected suicide in Kenya over the past few years. “All witness accounts suggest he committed suicide because the team lost but officers are still talking to those who were with him as part of the investigations into the incident”, he said. “It is not the first time we are losing a young man because of the football in England, which is far away from us. The football fans should enjoy the matches… but they need to know that is just a game and they should not commit suicide, since life is very precious.”  Undeniably true.

The fact that even one fan, anywhere in the world, could actually be moved to take his own life on the back of a pair of home defeats for a team thousands of miles away, seems mind-boggling.  It seems also to give an uncomfortable resonance to Shanks’ famous quote – but a soundbite nearly fifty years old can have little to do with what is an extreme phenomenon, born of a different type of football support to that tribal devotion typical of Shankly’s day.

As I wrote yesterday, this newish, different type of support has grown apace in the past decade or so.  Some call it “glory-hunting”, some merely refer to “global fanbases”.  But at its extreme margins, where tragedies of this sort are liable to occur – however infrequently – the motivations behind choosing to support a “megaclub” stand some examination.  Why, exactly do far-flung people choose to do this?  I believe that the answer to that depends on the type of club involved – but by far and away the most common reason is the wish to be identified with some perceived example of size, power and success.  This is “gloryhunting” in the raw, where a person of questionable self-esteem, lacking any other readily-apparent avenues for self-aggrandisement, will latch on to an institution regularly “bigged-up”  by the media, held up and put on a pedestal by such media as an example of success, something to be worshiped and revered, an institution which will reflect honour and glory onto its adherents, wherever they might come from.

There is seen to be some social cachet, therefore, in being recognised as a supporter of, say, Man U.  The opportunity is seemingly there for the otherwise pallid and ill-defined individual to bask in some reflected glory. For certain people of a perhaps less robust personality, this represents a relief from the humdrum routine of unregarded anonymity – it provides an escape route from their own feelings of inadequacy.  In extreme cases though, the pedestal that such a needy person builds for him or herself is more like a house of cards that can too easily come tumbling down, bringing with it the hapless fan who has pinned so much carefully-nurtured self-esteem on a seemingly invincible team that turns out, after all, to be fallible. The shock of this will be too much for some to bear; as they witness the downfall of their heroes, icons they had thought utterly reliable, what are they left with?  For the tragic few – seized upon as merchandising fodder by a voracious world game…and then let down with a bump – the answer would seem to be: nothing.

Better then, by far, to use football as a channel, not for some hopeless yearning for a boost in self-esteem, but rather for the kind of grisly defiance and bloody-mindedness that characterises – for instance – Leeds United fans. If there’s one thing you can be tolerably certain of, it is that, by and large, Leeds fans need to be made of stern stuff.  Not for them the lure of glory and triumph, not for them the warm glow of media hype and approval, or widespread cultural adoration.  The Leeds fan – especially the Leeds fan from far afield – has different motivations of an earthier and more non-conformist character.  Why else would so many travel literally thousands of miles per season, pay Premier League prices for what has been decidedly indifferent fare this past decade – and all of this to a background of contempt, disapproval, even hate?  It’s a conundrum – but some answers may well lie in some of the illuminating responses I received to yesterday’s article.

Whatever the reasons – and on the evidence of those replies, I would venture to suggest that most of them have to do with a desire to kick-out against the Establishment, the accepted way of things – the requirements to be a Leeds fan include a thick skin, strong shoulders, a philosophical personality and – above all – an unshakeable inner conviction that, against all visible evidence, they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Thus equipped, the Leeds United fan is able to roll with the punches, go with the flow and still feel able to hold their head up high and proclaim “We are Leeds and we are proud.  Marching On Together.”  This is not the stuff of which potential suicides are made – or at least not for such mundane reasons as a football result.

It’s the kind of inner serenity that fans of many clubs might well wish they could trade for a trophy or two.  It’s a state of mind, and not one that can simply be assumed.  It’s often said that fans don’t pick clubs – rather clubs tend to select fans of the mettle required to be worthy of supporting them. The media have a role to play in all of this, and it’s by no means a blameless one.  In their decades-long campaign of advancing the interests of one club – Man U – above all others, they have inflicted a certain amount of collateral damage, whilst at the same time strengthening the sinews of those already sinewy individuals who dare to swim against the tide and aspire to be Leeds United fans, or followers of other similarly proud but unregarded, unhyped clubs.

The damage done by the media to the weaker vessels who have opted to cling to the coat-tails of the mighty Man U has not been done intentionally. But suggestibility and the capacity to be brain-washed are functions of the strength, or lack thereof, of the human personality, the human ego.  It is the weaker ones who will be vacuumed up, wholesale by such a leviathan as Man U, with their publicity operatives in the press and media acting as recruitment agents.  Only the strong of character can resist such a siren call, only the willfully-defiant will survive the propaganda and tempting blandishments to be seen and read everywhere.  From these ranks – the ranks of the strong and the pugnacious – will emerge the Leeds United fans from every corner of the globe.  These are not people who will launch themselves off a high building after a couple of home defeats.  And fortunately so, as otherwise there might by now be sadly few of us left.

The tragic young man in Kenya who died last weekend can be seen as an extreme example of a victim of the myth that has grown up around the likes of Man U – and they are not alone.  A few years back, another Kenyan fan, this time of Arsenal, also took his life after a poor result, in the Champions League – ironically against Man U.  Never can the essential wrongness of that famously ironic Shankly quote have been more vividly illustrated than in these two wasteful and needless deaths, precipitated – almost certainly – by the meaningless outcome of mere games of football on foreign fields that neither victim would ever have visited.  This is when you start to question the degree to which football is hyped, when at bottom it remains mere sport, paling into insignificance besides the great issues of today or any other age.  It’s a pastime, a preoccupation – something to talk about or argue over in a bar or on a tea-break.  It beguiles many an idle hour, but it’s not – of itself – all that important.

Of course, there is always a place for pride in football, and even for people to use it as a vent for emotions that can’t find an outlet elsewhere.  But we must retain a sense of proportion, which is what that bemused police chief in Kenya was saying.  Passion and commitment must be tempered by realism and a sense of proportion.  The media should be playing a leading part in this, instead of grossly exaggerating over long periods the significance of games and competitions, or the standing and supposed invincibility of certain favoured clubs.  To perpetuate these hollow myths is to act irresponsibly, as there will always be fragile personalities that cannot define for themselves a sense of proportion, and to whom, ultimately, something as silly as a game of football might actually become as important as life or death itself – all at the behest of irresponsible journalists selling a commercially-motivated fairy-tale.  And when the ultimate tragedy happens, we’re all of us the poorer for it, even though it’s likely to affect fans directly only at that over-hyped and ridiculously puffed-up elite end of the world game.

As Bill Shankly would doubtless have been the first to admit, the whole institution of football everywhere on the planet is not worth even a fraction of one life.  It’s time that those responsible, in media and megaclub marketing departments, for pushing the hype, the hard-sell and the lies, got real, got back to what the game used to be all about and got back to reporting what happens instead of trying to lead the game by the nose in the direction of success and glory for the few and Devil take the hindmost.

Because when all is said and done – it’s only a game.

What Price the Soul of Leeds United?

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After the brief optimism of a few weeks ago, when the first post-Bates day saw welcome changes in the boardroom and welcome signings on the pitch – including one for whom we supposedly paid actual BIG money – things have gone a bit gloomy again over at LS11. The pre-season programme has now brought three successive defeats, including a woeful display at Walsall which Brian McDermott described as his “worst day as Leeds United manager”. The perceived wisdom is that we still need quality additions, including a rock of a centre-half and at least one tricky, fleet-footed winger. Brian’s “priority signing” is still unsigned, and unidentified. Clearly, more serious money is needed. Where’s it coming from?

The sequence of news items has been interesting. Once all that early-July optimism started to wane, the Red Bull story surfaced, and it refused to go away. The fans of course immediately started adding two and two to make five, and the scare stories of team rebranding circulated, along with slightly more feasible rumours of stadium naming rights. The battle lines were drawn; one camp stands firm in its traditionalism and will not tolerate the idea of the team playing at the Red Bull Arena, nor even a glimpse of that devil’s colour red on our pristine white shirts (with the fat blue stripe). On the other side there are those who feel we’ve sunk too low to be coy about appearances and naming rights – show us the money, they say, and you can basically do what you like to us. But we need to be talking massive money – we’re not, after all, some cheap trollop of a club you can buy for a song.

Once the Red Bull story had been around a little, and it had been possible to gauge fans’ reactions, Brian started to appear in the media again with his gloomy face on, bemoaning the lack of progress in the transfer market and making pessimistic noises about having to sell before he can buy. It makes me wonder whether, having realised that there would be significant fan opposition to the idea of naming rights to Elland Road being sold off, GFH might just have briefed Brian to get out there and make these dolorous pronouncements, putting the fear of God up the support that another season of under-achievement awaits and basically softening us up for whatever commercial coup they might have lined up. I’m not saying that Brian will necessarily be so ready to dance to the GFH tune, but I do smell a big, fat rat in terms of how our expectations are being managed, and how our instinctive suspicion of corporate influence over our club’s traditions is being dissipated by worry over lack of transfer money.

The fact is that the precedents are already out there for success at any price, and that we will ignore these new trends at our peril. Man City play at the Etihad, and Arsenal at the Emirates. If corporate stadium names are OK at these two grand old clubs, then why not at Leeds? It’s not as if any Leeds fan would ever call it by any other name than Elland Road anyway, so why the big fuss? We can expect to be wound up by opposition fans and the media, but what’s new about that? Surely the priority now is to give Brian McDermott the tools to finish the job.

If we remain too ignorantly proud to go with the flow, then we have to accept that the price of pride might be one we don’t wish to pay. Do we want to play at the Red Bull Arena in the Premier League, or at Elland Road in the Championship – or maybe even in League One? It might just be that the choice is as simple and stark as that.

Where’s That Sick-bag?

A Sickeningly Solemn Moment

A Sickeningly Solemn Moment

Ladies and gentlemen, if you have sick-bags to fill, prepare to fill them now.  If sugary treacle and soft-sawder syrup is your thing, get ready to drown in the stuff.  “Sir” Alex Ferguson is departing the stage, and there won’t be a dry seat in the house.  Sky TV are preparing for an extended weepathon as their hero who hated them, their idol who despised them, climbs down unsteadily from his throne of purchased glory and totters off upstairs to chew gum and glower balefully down at his hapless successor David Moyes.

This afternoon’s live TV offering has a delicately-scripted path to follow.  There will be a soft-focus montage of many of the Purple-Nosed One’s finest moments – Steve Bruce’s 98th minute winner against Sheffield Wednesday to a background of Martin Tyler’s shrieking climax as Man U all but clinched their first plastic Title.  Giggsy-Wiggsy’s finest FA Cup goal of all time as the Arsenal defence parted like the Red Sea and we were treated to an unsolicited view of the Husband of the Year’s chest-rug.  A selection of van Persie’s catalogue of sublime finishes from the Dutchman’s “One Man Title-Winning Season” collection.  It is doubtful however that Eric Cantona’s exposition of martial-arts skills from his South London Show of 1995 will make the cut.

After the moonlight and roses video softener has set the correct ambiance, and armchairs all over Devon and Cornwall are already bedewed with manly tears, we may have an actual interview with the dearly-lamented Departing One.  Subtitles will be provided for this section of proceedings, and yet it won’t so much be what He says, but more the way He says it.  As an example, if you hear a glottal noise along the lines of “Thiznaequayshtyunabootthaaaaat” it means that S’ralex is saying something he wishes you to accept as undisputed fact.  This happens a lot.  But those craggy and broken-veined features of pasty pink splotched with purple may at some point break into a grimace not unadjacent to a smile, and this will be the cue for the suits in the Sky Studio to howl with unrestrained emotion as the tears flow anew.  It’s going to be a harrowing afternoon, and we’re nowhere near kick-off yet.

At some point we will have testimony from a group of the usual suspects as to the essential saintliness and unmatchable achievements of the man.  Lou Macari, Paddy Crerand, Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and other such neutral witnesses will speak their lines to camera with all the sincerity and conviction of a tailor’s dummy. Ron Atkinson and Tommy Docherty may even appear if time permits, and attempt to mask their burning resentment at being consigned to the dustbin of history with a few clamp-jawed soundbites of faux admiration, before shambling off, clutching Mr Murdoch’s fat cheque.

And then, the game.  It has been thoughtfully arranged that the final day opponents at the Theatre of Hollow Myths should be a footballing side of attacking ambitions.  The script will call for them to make pretty patterns in midfield whilst offering no great threat to Man U’s rocky defence, where Phil Jones will be frantically gurning in an attempt to frighten off any Swansea attacker who dares venture too close.  At regular intervals, an uncharacteristically misplaced pass from the away team bit-part players will gift possession to Man U, who will then – according to the stage directions – “swoop to score another magnificent goal for the Champions.”  Ecstasy will ensue in the stands and the commentary box, and flowers will be thrown at the feet of the gum-chewing Govan Guv’nor as he performs that annoying little staggery old man’s dance from under the dug-out canopy, champing away in a Wrigley’s rictus of triumph.  It is an image that will be burned on the retinas of a whole football-supporting generation.

After the match – whatever time that might be depending upon how long it takes Man U to score The Winner – we shall have post-game interviews, more video footage to the accompaniment of weeping strings and synth, rambling reminiscence from the assembled sycophants – and maybe a final word from the abdicating Emperor himself, who will remind us, via an interpreter, that there’s “aye anither game tae go yet, by the waaaaay.”  And the crowds will sigh and depart for all points south, the lights will go out at the Theatre of Hollow Myths and the scene will gradually darken as a rainy Salford day fades into the night, as we all must sooner or later.  All that has been missing is the trademark Lone Piper, but he is reserved for even more solemn occasions, and his time is not yet.

And so it will be over.  It will be time for the Sky suits to heave a gigantic, shuddering sigh signifying end-of-an-era grief and regret, and then they must reluctantly move on.  A new hero awaits, and he’s sadly lacking as yet in the trappings of success and the aura that the commercially-aware would wish for him.  A project is to hand now that S’ralex has faded into the sunset, and that project is the reinvention of an Honest Pro into a Demigod, the Greatest Manager Of All, for such is the requirement of the twinned Hyperbole Departments of Sky and Man U for the unsuspecting Mr Moyes.  It’s a work in progress even now, but the momentum will gather as the new season approaches and the threat of upstarts such as Chelsea. Arsenal, Man City and even Liverpool, which has to be repelled for another year.  It will need to be business as usual, even without the Blessed Fergie. Life goes on, and today was merely the schmaltzy climax to the long-running soap-opera which was Man U under S’ralex.  It’s time to dry the tears and count the money.

Now where IS that sick-bag?