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Toby Banks

Moore's the pity

A bleak afternoon at Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace Football Club. The bloke in front of me has been grumbling incessantly about 'northern scum'. Today's opponents are Coventry - honorary northerners rather than the real thing - but then nothing surprises if you've witnessed a Palace fan, purple face screwed up in rage, screaming 'fuckin' norvenahs!' at Arsenal's ground.

There is a special one-minute silence, before the usual 90, in memory of Bobby Moore. Somebody - a long way off and probably not a Coventry fan anyway - makes a sound, and the bloke explodes: 'Fuckin' norvern carnts! No fuckin' respect!' The 'scum', you see, have no respect for Moore, a 'gentleman'. It's a breathtaking display of hypocrisy, and he'd get a booking for ungentlemanly conduct if he was on the pitch. Still, in its blunt way, it is a fairly accurate reflection of the national mood.

For a quarter of a century, the 'gentleman' in question has occupied a special position in the midfield of the national heart, as the clean-cut captain who led England to victory over the Germans. Bobby the icon sits forever upon the shoulders of Wilson and Hurst, brandishing the golden Jules Rimet trophy under the English summer sun. Just behind them, supplying the pathos and reminding us that this is not a display of foreign-style nationalism, is a grim old jobsworth in peaked cap and braid, looking as if he'd rather be playing bowls.

Since then, of course, England has achieved nothing of note on the football field, or any other field, come to that. With each anniversary--10 years, 15, 20, 25--the commemorations grow more desperate, as past success becomes a reminder of current failure. It is customary to describe deaths as untimely, and yet Moore's could hardly have been timelier. It has spared us the embarrassment of a 'twenty-seventh anniversary', and allowed the newspaper editors to put That Picture on the front page, where they really want it, rather than tucked away in the sports section.

Somewhere along the line, though, something happened that went beyond mere nostalgia. On Thursday the radio reported the death of a great ex-footballer. Friends called him 'Mooro', and Jimmy Greaves, who knows about these things, knew him as 'king of the bar stool'. Before liver cancer stole his life, he had retired, run a shop, written a ghosted column for the Sunday Sport and done radio commentaries for Capital Gold. By Friday morning, the British way of life was officially pronounced dead.

Moore's demise, following that of Roy of the Rovers a week earlier, and the poll showing a collapse in national pride, crystallised a national crisis. It became a handy symbol of the death of decency; of old-fashioned working class communities where people left the back door open. Bermondsey boy Johnny Speight, the man behind Alf Garnett, remembered a sort of Bobby-as-'bobby', who ran 30 yards to blow the whistle and restore order when the ref was knocked out, and refused to retaliate when Argentines spat in his face. 'These were the values we were brought up with in those docklands streets', said Johnny, who must have been thinking of the Canning Town Sunday School or an Ealing comedy. While some Eastenders may admire a gent, they'd be surprised to hear about a great tradition of aiding referees and turning the other cheek.

Invariably Moore's death was linked to another death, of a boy who had never heard of him, but who Moore, like everyone else, would have known all about. Graham Gooch, himself now a stubbly symbol of English failure, was the first to make the connection explicit. 'When someone like that dies', he reflected sadly, 'it puts things in perspective, as did the murder of that little boy in Liverpool. We couldn't have done worse than lose three-nil to India, but it's of little account compared to things like that'.

There was a televised minute's silence for James Bulger at a Liverpool match. There were pictures in all the papers of a six-year old girl, who couldn't possibly know about Saint Bobby, kneeling before the shrine of scarves, wreaths and mementoes at West Ham's ground. There is a horrible fatalism abroad that has got nothing to do with grieving the dead. It's as if people are just waiting for the next excuse to mourn and wail and wallow in despair and self-pity. Who gains from all the hopelessness, frustration and suppressed anger? With every contemptuous sermon about the evils of modern 'Giroland', the answer becomes clearer.

With hindsight, even the producers of the BBC's consumer programme Watchdog would probably admit that their enthusiasm got the better of them when they exposed the dangers of Pop-Tart breakfast snacks, which - wait for it - become very hot when toasted. Apparently some 'consumers' (ie, morons) have been burning themselves by taking Pop-Tarts out of the toaster too soon.

Instead of keeping quiet about their embarrassing injuries, they decided to 'come out' on national TV, indignantly displaying their bandaged hands and blaming society. Having cynically assumed that no 'trauma' was too trivial to be shared with a TV audience, I was pleasantly surprised when the show was held up to ridicule. What a contrast to the response that greeted Channel 4's so-called 'love weekend'. There had already been a national Aids day: for weeks I've avoided people with tattered red ribbons, who have replaced the nutcases who wear dog-eared poppies all year long. But Channel 4 clearly thinks one Aids day isn't enough, so they held their own Aids weekend.

I didn't think anyone would have the nerve to make yet another programme with dismal sketches about men asking directions to the clitoris, full and frank discussion of condoms, and tame snippets of untitillating titillation. By the end of the weekend my disbelief had turned to hysteria, as the safe sex insertions became increasingly ridiculous.

At one point a woman brought on her male 'slave', blindfolded, trussed from head to toe and only allowed within arms length for a custard cream or a light spanking. No drugs, no sex, and every orifice bound in rubber - hardly a prime candidate for HIV. In fact, the biggest threat to this man's health is his mistress feeding him an overheated Pop-Tart. None of which was allowed to distract from the key question: 'What about the dangers of Aids?', demanded the interviewer impatiently. The highpoint came in the poignant Sunday afternoon slot, featuring readings from Second World War love letters and poetry. During the closing credits a voice interrupted the classical music to announce: 'If you are worried about HIV or Aids....'

Well, if you're not worried yet, you never will be.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 54, April 1993

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