Raining on the open-top bus parade

Roy Keane went up another couple of notches in my estimation when he snubbed the offer of driving and waving through Sunderland.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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As a player, Roy Keane was despised by rival football fans. He was a hard bastard who left his studmarks on many an opponent’s shin and he played for Manchester United, so I guess he was never going to endear himself to many people.

But I’ve always admired him. I like Keane’s ‘take that you cunt’ attitude; the way he speaks his mind rather than recites the usual vacuous, media-coached platitudes trotted out by today’s footballers. I like the fact that he walked away from the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup training camp, telling manager Mick McCarthy to ‘stick it up yer bollocks’, because he felt the set-up was too amateurish.

But, most of all, I like Keane because he is an obsessive winner who refuses to tolerate mediocrity. Even after winning a trophy he wasn’t satisfied. Rather than rest on his laurels, he just wanted to focus on winning the next piece of silverware. Keane has repeatedly complained that his United team-mates had lost some of their hunger after winning the treble in 1999. ‘I have seen United players getting complacent, thinking they’ve done it all and getting carried away by a bit of success’, he said.

This week Keane went up another couple of notches in my estimation after snubbing the chance of an open-top bus parade to celebrate Sunderland’s promotion to the Premiership. ‘We discussed going round on an open-top bus but to me that’s a bit much’, he said. ‘The club’s done it a few times over the last few years and ended up with egg on their face.’ Club chairman Niall Quinn echoed Keane’s sentiments: ‘Everyone is rightly proud of our team but we feel we have simply got the club back to where we should be – among football’s elite. We’re not content with what has been achieved so far and this is when the hard work really starts.’

Keane’s attitude towards victory parades makes a refreshing change. It used to be the case that open-top bus parades were reserved for exceptional sporting achievements like winning the FA Cup or a European trophy. Nowadays it seems as though winning any old Mickey Mouse trinket is sufficient cause for an open-top bus parade and civic reception. West Ham, for example, celebrated their First Division play-off final victory in 2005 with a bus parade through Newham. Even FC United, the breakaway club formed by disaffected Manchester United fans, paraded on a bus through the streets of Bury this week to celebrate winning the Moore and Co Construction Solicitors North West Counties League Division Two.

A tinpot trophy it might have been, but FC United can at least say they were champions of their league. However, even runners-up have taken to staging victory parades these days. Newcastle United have not won a trophy since lifting the Fairs Cup in 1968 but this hasn’t stopped them helping themselves to a piece of the bus parade action. Newcastle lost in consecutive FA Cup Finals in 1998 and 1999 yet on both occasions they flaunted their failure in an open-top bus. Millwall, likewise, paraded down the Old Kent Road despite their abject surrender in the 2004 FA Cup Final. Sunderland even held a parade in 1998 after losing a First Division play off final against Charlton.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of public celebrations. I’m not a bah-humbug merchant who hates to see other people enjoying themselves. It’s just that I think that excessive victory parading is counterproductive. Firstly, if all including the losers are parading their runner-up medals, it rather devalues the currency. Secondly, over-celebration encourages complacency. We saw the corrosive effects of this all too clearly with the English cricket team. When England regained the Ashes in 2005 there was a massive victory parade in London and a reception in Downing Street. The problem was that, as The Times columnist Martin Samuel put it, the England players ‘went on a year-long lap of honour’ afterwards culminating in the ignominious 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia this winter.

Paradoxically, it seems that victory parades have grown in inverse proportion to Britain’s declining sporting prowess. The proliferation of such parades has become emblematic of our culture of sporting mediocrity. If we were more accustomed to success perhaps we’d be less inclined to celebrate so ostentatiously. Indeed, so starved are we of real sporting success that we have started to redefine the meaning of achievement. It’s a sad indictment of our ‘bronze medal mentality’ that we’re even prepared to stage victory parades when we’ve finished runners-up. England, for example, were losing semi-finalists in the 1990 World Cup and even lost the third place play-off, yet 75,000 fans still gathered at Luton airport to welcome home the team.

Victory parades are not just symptomatic of the changing meaning of sport and sporting achievement; they are also part of a broader trend in British culture. Open-top bus parades are amongst a new breed of public rituals which include the ubiquitous minute’s silence or minute’s applause, books of condolence and impromptu shrines. These nouveau rituals have filled a ceremonial void in public life; they have replaced more traditional ceremonies such as church services or May Day marches, which have increasingly lost their purchase.

So, I reckon it’s time we declared a moratorium on victory parades. Unless you’re a proper champion, open-top buses should be strictly for tourists only.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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