Celeries, socks and other footie missiles

As Liverpool fans recently proved, throwing objects on to the pitch is part of a rich tradition of terrace humour.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

That Tic Tac advert. Did it ruin last week’s Everton v Liverpool FA Cup replay? Or was it the only moment of excitement in the entire dismal two-hour yawnathon? Discuss. The unscheduled ad break was quite amusing, but my personal highlight was the bizarre spectacle of rolled-up socks being hurled on to the pitch by Liverpool fans.

Most TV viewers were perplexed. What was the significance of the socks? First George W Bush gets pelted with shoes in Iraq. Now socks are thrown at a football match. Are these two events in any way connected? As it happens they’re not. The sock throwing, it transpires, was an orchestrated stunt cooked up by fans on Liverpool internet forums. As well as hurling socks Liverpool supporters taunted their city rivals with chants of ‘sock robbers’. It was a jibe at Everton’s plans to relocate to the suburb of Kirkby. Apparently, the residents of Kirkby used to be known as ‘sock robbers’ because they were so poor that burglars stole socks from washing lines to avoid leaving fingerprints. Last season Liverpool fans threw Tesco shopping bags filled with balloons on to the pitch during a derby game to mock Everton’s proposed ground development partnership with the supermarket chain.

Is it big or clever to throw socks? I think so. Maybe the Merseyside in-joke was a bit too obscure for most neutrals watching on TV. Even some Scousers were scratching their heads. ‘What’s with the sock throwing? Was it some sort of wacky Soccer AM japery?’ wondered one bemused Everton fan on the When Skies Are Grey website. ‘Lived in Liverpool all my life and only ever heard the phrase “sock robber” once and it was said about people from Dovecot’, said a contributor to the Liverpool Way forum.

But I prefer to see the positive side of sock throwing. I’d argue that it raises the bar of missile throwing. It’s not just a missile, it’s a visual gag. Moreover, the audience isn’t spoonfed. It has to work a bit to solve the riddle. We need more thought-provoking missiles at football, especially when games are as dull as last week’s Merseyside derby.

Inevitably, such are the thin-skinned times we live in, not everyone saw the funny side of sock throwing. The Reverend Tim Stratford, chairman of Kirkby residents action group, wasn’t happy. ‘I would say to the fans, don’t do Kirkby down,’ he said. ‘It is a good place to live and it does not deserve this.’ Some Liverpool fans concurred. ‘Taking the piss out of Tesco and Everton is one thing, but having a crack at a town where so many decent Reds have come from is out of order’, said one contributor to the Liverpool Way forum. ‘It’s not witty, it’s demeaning to the residents of Kirkby, and it plays into the hands of the rest of the country who like to view Scousers in a certain light’, said another on the Red and White Kop website. The majority of Liverpool fans, however, quite rightly saw it as harmless banter.

What about Everton fans? Surely they too appreciated the comedy? Well, not everyone did. ‘You know how names stick, right? Kirkby sock robbers will be the chant from every team we play, for the next 100 years!’ warned one supporter on the forum. ‘You might not care… but your children will care, when they’re choosing their team. Who wants to be known as a “sock robber” in school?’ Most fellow blues were more relaxed. ‘Of all the ridiculous, puerile, pointless, pathetic posts that I have read on here over the years… This one is the prize winner’, said one. ‘All football fans get taunted by opposition fans. Always have, always will!’

The ‘sock robber’ stunt has parallels with the fine old Chelsea tradition of throwing celery. Like the rolled-up socks, the vegetable hurling that accompanied the lewd ‘celery’ chant was a terrace in-joke (1). Now, I hate Chelsea as much as the next man, but celery chucking was one of their few redeeming features. That and… er, actually, come to think of it, that was the only one. And like all good things in football the authorities have taken a rather dim view of this surreal ritual. Fans are now banned from taking celery into Stamford Bridge. Merseyside police were similarly po-faced about the sock throwing. A spokesman said that the police were ‘aware that socks were thrown by fans during the match’, adding: ‘We do not condone such behaviour and would like to take this opportunity to remind fans that throwing items at football matches is an offence.’

Unlike celery, however, it’s nigh on impossible for the authorities to stop fans bringing socks through the turnstiles. You simply wear extra layers. ‘I was wearing three pairs last night, so I was well prepared’, said one Liverpool sock thrower. Of course throwing stuff at football matches can be dangerous. ‘You could have someone’s eye out’, as they say, with a flying coin (though it’s difficult to make a similar case against sock chucking). But, reprehensible as it is, missile throwing is also a testament to human ingenuity. The authorities can confiscate obvious throwable objects, like bottles, but enterprising fans will always find something else to hurl: coins, cigarette lighters, mobile phones. You name it. If it isn’t bolted to the ground, it can be used as a missile. Ashley Cole was struck by a flying lipstick case while on England duty in Albania in 2001. At Millwall a half-eaten meat pie was thrown at a linesman in 2002. And now rolled-up socks. Genius. Whatever next? If we can put a man on the moon, there are no barriers to what football fans can use as missiles.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Salad days are over at Stamford Bridge, by Duleep Allirajah, 23 March 2007

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