FOOTBALL AND HUMOUR
Mickey Blue Eyes
"BECKET (Richard Burton): Will my lord dine with me tonight?
HENRY II (Peter O'Toole): On gold plate?
HENRY: I am your king, and I eat off silver.
BECKET: Your expenses are heavy. I have only my pleasure to pay for. Tonight you can do me the honour of christening my forks.HENRY: "Forks"?
BECKET: Yes, from Florence, a new little invention. It's for pronging meat and carrying it to the mouth. It saves you from dirtying your fingers.
HENRY: Then you dirty the fork.
BECKET: Yes, but it's washable.
HENRY: So are your fingers. I don't see the point.
BECKET: Well, it hasn't any, practically speaking. But it's refined, it's subtle. It's very......un-Norman.
HENRY: You must order me some......for my barons.
BECKET: I have enough forks to go round. Bring the gentlemen with you tonight.
HENRY: I shall......You won't tell them what they're for?......They'll probably think they're a new kind of dagger."
BECKET, a film by Peter Glenville (1964), translated from a play by Jean Anouilh (1961).
"Freud considered laughter the conservation of psychic energy. Then again, Freud never had to play the old Glasgow Empire, second house, on a Saturday night after Rangers and Celtic both lost."
KEN DODD, Liverpool comic.
Whatever else football humour may be you can hardly claim it is subtle. Mostly it is raw and brutal, occasionally racist......and always merciless and bullying. There are never any half measures. And there is seldom any point trying to reason with a footy supporter who thinks he is being funny. You might as well go and yodel up the nearest entry. But when your team isn't doing well one of the things to keep you going is the odd bellow or observation from a neighbouring fan. "Funny" of course is subjective, and isn't always conscious. One man's funny is another man's unfunny, though every now and then somebody comes out with something that has everyone giggling. We all have our favourite stories. Unfortunately, football songs long ago ceased being comical and became ad nauseam dross, usually the first and last resort of mass drunks and mental uncertainty. Fortunately, the game still has individual spontaneity to offset the loss.
General contemporary humour has tended to get increasingly cruel until sometimes it verges on, if not actually, sadism. Naturally this feeds through to football, especially amongst the intellectually challenged. In these circumstances if the ineffable Frank Boyle didn't exist it would be necessary to invent him. More and more stand up comics do little more than pick on members of their audience, an easy option for an experienced pro with a mic and one that has become as tedious as football songs. Hopefully the tendency will wear out. Not that it is new - large Manc comic the late Bernard Manning was notorious for his racist shtick, something that couldn't be delivered today without the culprit ending up in the back of a police car.
Sitting near our little long-term season-ticket holding group is a character Alan nicknamed Elmer Fudd. There is a combination of reasons for this epithet: the recipient not only looks vaguely like Elmer his speech sounds just as weirdly incoherent. Often it is impossible to hear anything he shouts except for the closing words, which are almost always that peculiar English combination of pleading and anger, "Will yer!?" Sometimes it sounds like R2D2 having a blow out, bleeps, whistles and all, a sort of Scooby Doo in a footy scarf. The thing is, Elmer is always serious, which of course makes it even funnier. A few matches ago the opposition got a throw in within thirty seconds of the kick off and Elmer, tension ridden, let out with, "Shitdeezvgorratrowinrightaway! Gerragripwillyer!" an observation that ranks him alongside Mark Bright for forensic commentary. He probably doesn't even notice the nearby group clinging to each other helpless with laughter. On the down side, Dan sits directly in front of him and gets it right in his ear. Never look to a fellow fan for solace. Take the bullet and smile.
For instance, in one recent match, Tony Hibbert smacked a clearance a few metres straight into Seamus Coleman's face and the winger fell like a stone as the ball went out for a throw-in to the enemy. Clearly unimpressed at his lack of technical skill, someone said, "Fuckn 'ell, Seamus, he hit it straight to yer."
Pitiless mickey-taking has long roots in British working class life, where it was often used to deflect the harsher facts of life, especially at the work site. For example, Liverpool docks once employed thirty thousand when loading and unloading was carried out manually. Work conditions were appalling and terribly dangerous, accidents frequent and deaths not unexpected. Most of us recognise this as the authentic root of Liverpool humour; contrary to myth it isn't unique but it is certainly more intense and quicker than most other places. Nicknames were instant and usually stuck for life. The cross talk was as merciless as machine gun fire. What passes for "banter" these days would have lasted less than thirty seconds in the face of it. You stood your corner and fired back or you got mown down. Nobody stopped to pick you up. The battle went on, prone casualties everywhere. It was next to useless pleading sensitivity while shrapnel flew in all directions. Jagged metal doesn't stop in mid air just because you have the eyes of a Labrador. Needless to say this all transferred to that bastion of working class culture, football. And it still is working class. I have no time for this Daily Mail shit that the game has become "middle class" because it costs more at the gate or because of corporate entertainment.
And speaking of nicknames David Unsworth didn't get "Lard Arse" because he had a butt like Hallé Berry. Years ago, liverpool had a player, Bobby Graham, nicknamed "Blunder" because he stood on the ball in training, a mistake that finished his career. Graham Stuart got "Jigsaw" because famously he went to pieces in the box. Mike Pejic was "Miss Piggy" because of his flat nose. Another veteran and very rude one was for Mike Trebilcock, who was dubbed "Three Dicks," which is probably how he felt after getting two goals in the 1966 Cup Final. Andrei Kanchelskis got "The Road Runner" because full backs spent the entire afternoon trying to get a glimpse of his disappearing back. There are many others.
Humour isn't unique to any part of the country or the world. The species couldn't exist without it. But, true to the nonsense that forms its evolutionary root, you often hear regionalists talk of "Scouse humour" or "Cockney humour" or "Black Country humour" or even "Geordie humour." In fact they are merely in different accents and intensities. None are "better." Oddly, you never hear the term "middle class humour" despite the best efforts of TV stations over the years to promote anodyne stuff like Terry and June, The Vicar of Dibley and other anaemic by products. Maybe that's why humour has become so widespread savage. Maybe nobody wants the mantle of "middle class," despite the best efforts of media propaganda to Americanise us. And matters worsen when things turn nationalist. In the British case we are told almost from birth, "Germans have no sense of humour." It's bollocks of course, a myth so entrenched you might need a flame thrower to dislodge it. But Don't Mention The War, ho ho.
The fact is, all footy crowds are humorous. How they react on any given day simply depends on circumstances and collective mood. You can't ignore the herd instinct any more than you can ignore personal temperament. Some people are just plain without humour and spend match time doing nothing but whine and moan. A sensible fan avoids that kind of company like the plague, before, during and after the game. Equally, if your club has just been relegated or lost a cup final you aren't likely to see many smiling faces, though often adversity can produce a pearl or two. Humour, like most things in life, is a matter of give and take. Don't dish it out if you can't take it on the chin.
And smile. You're always on Candid Camera. The joke is always on you.