Death to the dribbling classes
Remember the days when you could go to a football match without a bunch
of them spouting obnoxious opinions at the tops of their voices and ruining
everybody's enjoyment with their moronic antics? Remember when the TV cameras
used to ignore them, rightly regarding them as a tiny minority who had no
place in football, despised by real fans and of no interest to the viewers
Sadly it seems those days are gone. Open a 'quality' newspaper or a glossy
magazine and there will be an article about them. TV coverage of a big match
is now considered incomplete without one of their self-appointed 'leaders'
giving his inane views and insisting that he is a 'real fan'.
Anyone unfortunate enough to have encountered them abroad will know the
shame and embarrassment of being associated with them in the foreign mind,
as they push the locals about and arrogantly parade their tasteless holiday
outfits. They have made Britain the most hated nation on Earth, they are
a problem created by our sick society, and now these sad, inadequate creatures
have latched on to football, hoping it will give them the acceptance and
popularity they crave. The media attention only serves to encourage their
For the disturbing truth is that the middle classes are openly attending
football matches in growing numbers, protected by police officers who hover
around, arresting anyone who displeases them. Having failed to convert the
masses to the respectable pleasures of rugby and American football, they
are now trying to clean up the national game and turn it into safe 'classless'
family entertainment. David Mellor's appearance during the Cup Final build-up,
following John Major's regular spot on The Match, has given the green
light to thousands of everyday attacks on this bastion of the British working
class. Watching Mellor's goofy grin, as his revolting young sons squeaked
away like a couple of recorders being blown too hard, was the last straw.
So what's new? You could argue that the authorities have always tried to
control football and use it for their own ends - attacking or supporting
it to suit their purposes at different times. But they always kept it at
arm's length: everyone agreed it was the working man's game, and this in
itself was enough to make the middle classes uneasy. Large crowds of this
sort automatically generate an atmosphere of disrespect for authority at
the very least, and often open hostility. Those few middle class followers
of football have by and large stayed in the expensive seats and kept quiet.
Their friends would think them mad for going at all.
It's worth recalling that only a few years ago football was described as
a 'slum sport watched by slum people', and the much-missed sports minister
Colin Moynihan didn't try to conceal his contempt for the whole thing. During
the last European Championships in 1988 there were calls to withdraw the
England team and ban the fans. How times change: this time the team was
sent off to Sweden like a task force blessed by the great and the good.
What's behind it all? Hillsborough undoubtedly forced a change of tactic,
when attempts to blame it on 'the hooligans' provoked widespread anger.
But the authorities could hardly admit that they'd hyped up the whole hooligan
panic as an excuse for the policing methods which caused that disaster.
So, instead, they argued that 'the tragedy had made people see sense', and
football 'deserved a second chance'.
When England began Italia '90 in the usual dismal fashion, they showed no
interest in the team (as opposed to the fans who were 'under scrutiny',
'on trial', etc). But by the time of the semi-final it was too good to resist,
and out came the Jubilee bunting and the Second World War rhetoric. All
kinds of public school idiots suddenly sported England 'soccer' shirts and
adopted Gary Lineker as a new Seb Coe figure - an honourary 'one of us'.
Literary parties were deserted as the 'chattering classes' crowded round
their screens. Pavarotti's World Cup hit prompted wistful talk of the well-heeled
clientele at the San Siro stadium in Milan, and the fat man's own Juventus.
Now the posh papers are preparing for one last heave. They've even coined
a phrase for the new bourgeois aficionados - 'the dribbling classes'.
Just in case anyone thinks there might be grounds for optimism in all this - a
new spirit of tolerance and understanding, or something­p; here's a message
from a prominent member of this new class. I can only assume that Martin
Amis has undergone a dramatic change of heart since last year, when he dribbled
these brotherly words:
'I noticed that all the fans had the complexion and body-scent of a cheese-and-onion
crisp, and the eyes of pit bulls. But what I felt most conclusively, above
and below and on every side was ugliness - and a love of ugliness. This was
in the stands, and at QPR!' (Independent on Sunday, 27 October
When faced with such outrageous crap, there is an understandable tendency
for people to respond indignantly: 'We're not like that!' And indeed we
are not. Yet far too many of the 'representatives' of the fans (supporters'
associations, fanzines, etc) go too far along the road of self-righteousness,
and end up trying to prove their respectability. Why should we want to win
the approval of the 'dribbling classes' anyway? How much better to simply
say: 'If you don't like it, Amis, fuck off back to Hampstead and watch it
on the telly.'
Of course, this is exactly what Martin Amis expects - no, wants - to
hear. His novels are celebrations of such ugliness - the fouler, the better.
This is his ugly cheese-and-onion fantasy of the great unwashed, and he
makes a healthy living from it. Behind all his smirking and sneering, though,
lies a real fear, one which he can't laugh off. This is the intimidating
hostility of 'the mob'. There are plenty of ugly things in football (not
least the grounds themselves), but in these stiflingly deferential days,
the intimidation of people like Martin Amis has to count as one of the beauties
of the game.
Let's confirm these people's worst suspicions - they're too cocky by half
nowadays. Next time you're stuck next to them at a game, let them know they're
not welcome. And if all else fails, hit 'em. It's the only language they
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 45, July 1992