All sporting arenas must have their own rules which extend far beyond the dos and don’ts of scoring goals. They are codes of conduct, governing everyone involved with the sport, as ill-defined as the British constitution and as mysterious as Harry Potter’s popularity, but as necessary as the shin-pad. For their purpose is not to protect – as in society – the individual, but the sport.
Sol Campbell is an England international footballer who left one club to join its local rivals. Whilst hardly a crime in society why shouldn’t the practice be loathed in football. He swore allegiance until the day he moved when he was branded a traitor and continues to have chants sung about him that provoked him into phoning a nationally recognised current affairs radio programme asserting that his human rights were being abused claiming "This would not be allowed to happen on the street."
Rightly so, but it’s not happening on the street. It’s happening within the confines of a passionate and emotionally charged competitive sporting arena.
The signs at British football stadia requesting that spectators not consume alcohol in sight of the pitch is not a health warning for those with slow metabolism nor does it reflect the sensibilities of the grass, but protects the status of the game from the peering eyes of those not involved in the sport. In fact, it must be the desire of the sport to keep the grubby paws connected to those eyes off of our hallowed turf.
There are people who will spend their last penny to go to football to loosen the shackles of the week’s work or the wife’s whingeing, and those who spend a tiny percentage of their fortune to sit and eat prawn sandwiches. What they all understand is that competition is the essence of the piece and its expression is abuse. Not racial abuse, not homophobic abuse and not aimless abuse, but wholehearted support based on allegiance and rivalry. We can hope for subtlety and wit over the crass, we can aim for the tribal rhythms over the personal abuse, but we should not lose its joy.
Referees know that they were, are and will always be, to a man, w*nkers. Visiting fans of rural based clubs undoubtedly came in a tractor whilst a small support came in a taxi. Rival fans only ever have two options – surrender or die. ‘If Dixon plays for England so do I’, and Jason Lee will forever be the footballer who had a pineapple on his head.
And most emphatically, to the tune of ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’, knowing dear reader that you will take the second person plural in its most general sense, ‘You can stick Sol Campbell up your arse’.