The glory of the gloating game
The only thing more enjoyable for a football fan than the failure of rivals is the chance to rub their noses in it.
This weekend, the remaining Premiership relegation issues will be settled. There’ll be weeping fans, disconsolate players and anguished managers. But there’ll also be a shedload of gloating. Laughing at other people’s misfortune: what’s not to like? It’s what the British do best.
One of the wonderful things about football gloating is that it reveals the intractability of local rivalries. Manchester United is a global brand but the gloating is aimed at decidedly local rivals. The number 19 is very important to United fans. They’ve launched an online campaign to get Paul Hardcastle’s 1985 hit ‘19’ back to the top of the charts. On Saturday the Darwen end at Blackburn’s Ewood Park was full of banners bearing the number 19.
Nineteen, to the uninitiated, is the number of league titles that United have now won – finally breaking Liverpool’s record of 18 championships. It’s the realisation of Alex Ferguson’s famous ambition to ‘knock Liverpool off their fucking perch’. Celebrating a title triumph for its own sake clearly isn’t enough for United fans. They want to rub Liverpool’s noses in it. As United’s game drew to a close the visiting fans unfurled a huge banner which read ‘Top of the perch’ and chanted ‘Are you watching Merseyside?’ A group of enterprising fans even unfurled an ‘MUFC 19 times’ banner at Anfield the following day in an audacious behind-enemy-lines operation. Never mind that Chelsea were United’s closest title rivals, the gloating was all about Liverpool.
Another iconic number in Manchester is 35. There is – or at least there used to be – a huge banner at Old Trafford which read ‘35 years’. It’s called the Stretford ticker and represents the number of years since Manchester City last won a trophy. Gloating writ large. Literally. It didn’t matter whether United were playing Arsenal, Chelsea or Barcelona. It didn’t matter that, for many years, City were languishing in the lower leagues. The Stretford ticker underlined the fact that the old rivalry was as fierce as ever. A case of ‘think global, gloat local’, if you like.
When Roberto Mancini arrived at Eastlands he vowed to ‘take that banner down’. Sheikh Mansour, City’s owner, may dream of European domination but many long-suffering City fans are simply glad to silence the United taunts. No surprise that Saturday’s FA Cup victory was greeted with counter-gloating from the City fans in the shape of a banner proclaiming ‘00 Years’. Some might argue that gloating is mean-spirited and unsporting. Celebrate victory, yes, but rubbing your opponents’ noses in it is undignified. Personally I think this is a load of Corinthian poppycock. I love gloating. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s an art form.
Cruel but often witty banners and terrace chants are the traditional forms of gloating. However, new, innovative forms of taunting are now emerging. Gloating has gone digital. Cyber-gloating in the form of viral emails and Twitter taunts are now established channels for football-related ridicule. After securing the Premier League title on Saturday, Wayne Rooney couldn’t resist having a pop at Liverpool fans on Twitter: ‘A scouser knocks Liverpool of there perch. Haha. An evertoniian aswell. Yes. People. U can’t imagine how happy I am tonight. Believe’.
Cyber-gloating is cheap and simple but some fans are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to taunt their rivals. When Wigan condemned West Ham to the drop on Sunday, a light aeroplane appeared over the DW Stadium with a banner that read: ‘Avram Grant – Millwall legend’. Hiring a plane takes gloating to a whole new level. Literally. Airborne gloating certainly appears to be taking off, so to speak. On the final day of the Championship season, two aeroplanes trailing banners flew over Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium mocking the club’s relegation to the third tier of English football. One read ‘Poor little Preston enjoy Lge 1’, while the other declared: ‘We are superior love Blackpool FC.’ Preston manager Phil Brown was clearly not amused. He branded the stunt ‘distasteful’ and said ‘If I had a gun I would have shot the plane down’.
The great thing about Schadenfreude is that you don’t need to be a winner to indulge in it. The Tangerines are mired in relegation trouble themselves but they can still derive pleasure from the misfortune of their Lancashire rivals. Hiring light aircraft is spectacular but my nomination for ‘Gloat of the Season’ goes to the Channel 4 Countdown producer, also a Blackpool fan, who gave contestants the conundrum ‘PNECRISIS’ to solve on a recent edition of the programme. To their credit, Preston took their televised humiliation in good humour. ‘We can see the funny side of the joke and accept that with any setback you will always have opposition supporters ready to poke fun’, said a club statement.
Mockery might seem ungracious to those who see sport as a moral instrument. But gloating is a great leveller. Even if your team has no chance of silverware you can still derive joy from watching Manchester United or Chelsea screw up. ‘Football is about glory’, Danny Blanchflower once said. Ideally, yes, but you have to admit that laughing at other people’s misery is also hugely enjoyable.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
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