Date: 16th October 2005 at 10:27am
Written by:

Back in the olden-days when the steam trains ran and Mr Churchill was still alive, it was the duty of every self-respecting yob who was worthy of his quiff, Beatle-cut, brothel-creepers or Chelsea boots, to defy the convention of standing for the playing of national anthem, at some point during the performance at his local Odeon. If the afore mentioned yob had any sense of style about him at all, he would prop his rebellious footwear of choice, on the back of the seat in front and take a drag on his Woodbine with as much contempt as possible, as he soaked up the disgust of the more respectful citizens whose outrage he meant to excite. Harsh words were often exchanged, as the different generations debated the value of this minor, yet important, patriotic ritual.

As a young snot I had no idea what was going on but by the reactions of my elders, I understood it to be a rather bad thing to do and the sort of thing that was going to lead to the end of civilization as we knew it and definitely of all things both right and proper. It was only much later that I understood the origin of this thing I took for granted and only eventually became aware, that it in fact, was a rather recent innovation and quite a modern tradition.

Obviously, your self-respecting yob was only defying convention, for the simple pleasure of annoying the uptight of his local parish but when I found out that it was a bit of manipulation, thought up to induce the patriotic (men that is) to volunteer to get blown up for the honour of the King, my sympathies tended to be with the yobbery.

It seems rather unlikely, these days, that salvaging the discomfiture and honour of the Monarch, would be worth the sacrifice of a million lives (Mr Blair’s honour might be another thing) but it seems that the country is desperate for a focal point for the expression of pride and nationhood, which standing for the Queen at the Odeon used to provide; and it seems that sport is the new vehicle for patriotism and national sentiment. The amazing thing is that it has taken over forty years to find a replacement for playing God Save The Queen before the start of a Norman Wisdom film.

I can still remember my disbelief back in ’92 when the gaffer decided that we could all arrive late for work so we could watch England play Nigeria in the World Cup (drab 0-0 I recall); and I never really understood why he did that. This last couple of weeks had me even more confused, as even more leeway was offered to anyone who professed even the slightest interest in the cricket (everyone) and I could only conclude that something strange was happening, as people deserted their grind-stones in droves, to chew their finger-nails, watching a game most of them didn’t understand. But they knew one thing, the nation’s honour depended upon it and every bit of good news was greeted like the relief of Mafikeng.

Although I don’t quite understand the intricacies of the LBW rule, which makes my relationship with the umpires rather less fraught than with football referees, I understood one thing – it was an occasion of national unity and it was one of those occasions when I didn’t mind it one bit when the media insisted that cricket is now the biggest craze since the hula-hoop.

For all the string-pulling by the media, I was rather glad the uninitiated could witness a game where standards of sportsmanship and personal behaviour, although not always perfect, made the antics of footballers seem boorish, childish and over-indulgent. And most of all, despite the fact that all the jingoists’ eyes were on the England chaps, it gave them the last opportunity to see the genius and magic that is Shane Warne. Shane is every bit a magician as Pele or Zidane, as far as I’m concerned.

The only thing that spoilt it for me, was the way prayers were offered up for divine intervention as regards the weather and although He duly obliged by washing out most of Sunday, He never got a mention in the subsequent match reports. No wonder (exactly), He doesn’t bother to answer my prayers when I ask Him for stuff.

Someone who might be considering prayer as his next option, is Villa’s David O’Leary, who having found the combination for the safe that holds the petty-cash, at Villa Park, finds he has made the team worse by his spending spree rather than better. A four-nil loss away from home (a Hammering) to a team of no Premiership pedigree whatsoever, was a saddening and totally sickening result, which can’t really be explained away convincingly, and not even the ‘no money – no players’ excuse of yore, was available for Villa’s mangler.

O’Leary’s plan seemed to be, that he would drop some of the players who he thought had grown complacent and get a decent result against a newly promoted team, which would bed in the new guys, gee up the slackers and the world would be his oyster – Real Madrid here I come. But it couldn’t have gone more wrong, as the new guys proved worse than the slackers. It seems that he was so pissed-off by it, that he had to send Whittington away on loan to prove he was still in charge.

Having just spent a few bob and run out of excuses O’Leary has moved into the last stage. He is now at a crossroads where he will either prove he is as good a manager as he has always claimed to be, or he will end up with a lousy CV, a damaged reputation and heading for oblivion, like so many promising Villa managers have ended up before him. But with a nice wedge in the bank, I am sure he and his Missus might fancy living in a seaside town, where he can combine retirement with managing the local football team.

Taking on the resurgent Tottenham with a team looking so decidedly awful, is hardly the fixture I am sure he would choose, when trying to turn things around.

Here we go, here we go, here we go!

By Steve Wade