Offside, 25 May

Premature celebration: we can't say it's never happened to us before.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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The official England supporters’ club englandfans has been running German lessons for football fans at the Goethe Institute in London. The course is one of a range of initiatives designed to promote Anglo-German fan friendship ahead of the World Cup. And since being nice to the Germans is the objective, phrases such as ‘Two world wars and one world cup’ and ‘Ten German Bombers’ are notable by their absence from the curriculum. I think that’s a shame. When Germany beat England at Wembley in 2001 the visiting fans serenaded their hosts with chants of ‘You’re shit and you know you are’ in immaculate English. It’s only right and proper that we return the compliment.

The idea that international friendship is something that can be taught in a classroom is, of course, both risible and patronising. In any case, we’re quite capable of picking up German words and phrases without any tuition. Take the word schadenfreude for example. There is no single English word that means to derive pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. So, we’ve borrowed a German word. In fact, we haven’t just borrowed the word, we’ve turned it into a great British tradition. There’s nothing a British football fan enjoys more than laughing at the misfortune of his rivals.

Last week’s Champions League final was a good example. ‘Ten man Arsenal’s heroic defeat’ was the British media’s take on events but the rest of us were soon having a good old chuckle at the Gooners’ expense. Whenever an English club reaches a European final there are always 90-minute patriots urging neutrals to cheer for the English team. Last year, when Liverpool won the European Cup, one journalist wrote that ‘the entire nation turned Scouse for one wild night’. But there were plenty of Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea fans who admirably refused to put country before club. For every temporary Scouser there was an English fan who was Milanese for a day.

Likewise, within hours of Arsenal’s defeat, the jokes were whizzing around cyberspace. First to appear in my email inbox the next morning was a spoof Mastercard advert: ‘Tickets to Paris – £400; Ticket for the game – £90; Face paint and jester’s hat – £10. Seeing Henry choke big style, blame everyone but himself and then f**k off to play for the winners…Absolutely Priceless’. Two days later Henry pledged his future to Arsenal and the gag was out of date but such is the beauty of chain emails that the whole of cyberspace was already in on the joke. This wasn’t just your bog standard piss-take; this was viral schadenfreude: instant e-cruelty at the click of a mouse.

We may have been denied the pleasure of seeing Thierry Henry defect to Barcelona but there were plenty of other opportunities for mocking the poor Gooners:

Q: What is red and white and goes ‘beep, beep, beep’?
A: The Arsenal open top bus reversing into the garage.

Premature celebration has become something of an Arsenal speciality in recent years. When their 49-game unbeaten run came to a dramatic end at Old Trafford in October 2004, Arsenal players were reportedly wearing T-shirts with the slogan ’50 not out’. No surprise that these shirts never saw the light of day. You’d have thought they would have learned their lesson but they were at it again last week. Ahead of the Champions League final signs went up around Islington warning motorists of road closures during Arsenal’s victory parade. Within hours of the final whistle sounding in Eindhoven a number of these road signs had been removed and were being hawked on Ebay – the perfect present for a Spurs fan.

But Arsenal aren’t the only ones to tempt fate by planning a victory celebration before a ball has been kicked. The Football Association has been making plans for a victory parade in central London to celebrate England’s World Cup victory. The open top bus will follow the same route as the England rugby team’s victory parade culminating in a royal reception at Buckingham Palace. Unlike Arsenal, the FA tried to keep their plans under wraps but The Times found out and splashed the story across its front page. Dear oh dear, will they never learn? As any cabinet minister will tell you there isn’t an institution in Britain that is capable of keeping a secret these days. And, as Sven has found to his cost, the FA is more porous than most.

The English are a funny lot, aren’t we? Just a few weeks ago we were bemoaning the broken metatarsal that had wrecked our World Cup chances. Now we’re planning the bleedin’ victory parade. Even the normally cautious Sven has declared that ‘I think we will win it this time’. The Times has applauded this uncharacteristic triumphalism. ‘It is time to call time on the national reticence act,’ declared the newspaper. ‘Alf Ramsey declared with conviction that England would win in 1966. Sven is the first manager since who can do likewise’. Now, I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe that the sporting gods will punish us for contemplating victory and I’m all for shedding our national defeatism. It’s just that I think there’s a difference between saying you’re going to win and really believing it. I’m not convinced and I don’t think Sven is either.

And if you don’t agree then look down the England squad list, find the name ‘Peter Crouch’ and contemplate it for a few seconds. Still convinced that England will win? No, thought not. Never mind, at least there are the self-deprecating pizza adverts to look forward to after we’ve gone out on penalties.

Duleep Allirajah will be chairing the debate
What does football mean to me? featuring sports minister Richard Caborn, spiked editor Mick Hume, and Matt Garrahan of the Financial Times. The event takes place at The Vibe Bar in London’s Brick Lane on Wednesday 7 June 2006. For more details, see the spiked events page.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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