TMN lets rip with another guest column, this time from resident star-gazer John Rippon. The return of Football What Matters has ushered in a superstition-inspired nationwide hunt for tattered old scarves, lucky tea mugs and treasured programmes, so JR takes a quick survey of our nation’s obsession with the trinkets and rituals we use in a desperate attempt to swing the tiny margins of fate in our favour. He also talks about dirty pants.
Knee deep in August and there have been some puzzled looks around. Why? Well for starters, since when did a football season start before the onset of summer, which is understood to be making a brief appearance this year on a Wednesday morning in mid-September between some of that fine rain that gets you right soaked and a spell of general greyness usually associated with eastern European travel brochures. However, following that long-winded (honk!) formality on the weather, the looks of confusion on some men’s faces and the disbelief of their partners can be attributed to the reappearance of the annual discussion about those undies with more holes than a well crafted Swiss cheese.
While some believe that twenty-two men on a field determine the result of the 90 minutes of a standard football match, there is a far greater proportion of this educated nation that understand that it doesn’t matter which players a club signs over the summer, what new pre-season training methods have been introduced or whether the manager has spent hours pouring over new defensive and attacking tactics. The result of the game boils down to something far more sensible; the availability of those lucky kecks, discarded to the bottom of the pile since last May.
A well worn pair of undies is a pretty standard method of achieving three points. However other approaches, almost all of which the management of clubs fail to consult their supporters upon, range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Other crucial apparel and rituals – including the club’s retro ‘80s kits for those must win fixtures, the purchase or avoidance of a programme, the half time pie or pre-match tipple – all hold the key to the team’s afternoon triumph. The result of a game can also hang on events closely preceding 3pm of a Saturday. One tale at the tail end of last season was on the morning of big match, a request being made by the girlfriend of a friend as to whether his toe nails could be painted an apparently fabulous shade of pink. Not normally one to dabble in the complicated world of body decoration, the Sunday to Friday answer would have involved a furrowing of the eyebrows and a mild rotation of the head. But so close to the seasons resolution, and in need of all karmic assistance available, the offer was accepted. Unfortunately, it did not seem to be doing the trick and so to remind the Powers That Be of the earlier sacrifice the appendage artwork was unveiled to somewhat confused bystanders. Few comments were made to the appropriateness of the design or colour and, with little resultant change to the outcome for the team, no post game requests were made for details of the supplier and availability of the lacquer by those in proximity to the rose-tinted digits.
Just as important as attending in the appropriate attire are the superstitious efforts exerted during the 90 minutes of action. Statisticians have thus far disregarded the terraces, preferring to analyse the on-field efforts of players strolling for 12km per game and their percentage of misplaced short-range passes. A count of the feet shuffles, removals and applications of hats to head and gloves to paws, mint distributions or the volume of abuse to the man in black go unrecorded. This kind of analysis can result in more pain than pleasure. Attending a game a couple of seasons back, my attendance was delayed and entrance to the stadium was made with five minutes remaining and the game goalless. An injury time corner produced a winner but does this mean that those in my proximity would be justified in requesting that my Saturday afternoon entertainment now be condensed into five minutes. Thankfully this concern has not yet been raised by those who fill the surrounding seats.
Another approach producing recent success but not impinging on anyone’s viewing pleasure was identified by a young cousin of mine. Possibly too young to be into body art, he has recently begun a sentence in the stands with a different addition to his preparation and to date holds a record, as he enters his fourth season, of attending about a dozen games all of which have left us victorious. Initially it was understood that he alone stood as the chosen one, similar to Christ or the Matrix’s Neo, but without the off-field miracles and expensive special effects that they were accompanied by respectively.
On closer inspection it was noted that said youngster was not alone and within a pocket retained a volcanic pebble, christened the lucky egg on account of its shape. An analysis of the egg in an attempt to identify the source of its influence proved inconclusive. Much like a meringue mixture, the egg plot thickened. While visiting his grandfather, who was the root of the young man’s allegiance and who had been a follower of the club in significantly more successful days, the lad unveiled the totem. The act left the elder family member momentarily speechless before he departed the room, returning with his hands clasped around a larger object. “Take a look at this,” he chuckled as he opened his hands to reveal another egg, seemingly of an identical volcanic nature and appearance, but of far greater size. The source of the club’s previous success soon became apparent to the youngster but his pleas for the super egg and its owner to return to the terraces were quashed by medical complaints that will ultimately curtail all our careers to armchair viewing.
The egg’s powers have subsequently been tested in isolation, without the child that is its normal guardian, and unfortunately it proved less effective. Clearly both strike teams – egg and super egg – are likely to only work in duality of egg and owner. Now if only a heated arm chair could be installed at the stadium to accommodate the ailing grandfather, or 9 other lucky charms that could be adorned with the clubs strip were to be located, it would not only guarantee a successful season but also enable the wage bill to be slashed dramatically by removing the fools that currently saunter around for 90 minutes believing their actions are directly responsible for the Saturday afternoon result. However, until such time it’ll be a mixture of biting finger nails, raiding the recesses of the cupboard, repositioning ourselves endlessly in the stand and searching for elusive chicken and mushroom pies at half time to ensure a successful season.