Just a Minute

You’ve just settled into your seat, meat pie in one hand, scalding hot plastic cup of brown liquid in the other. You’ve nodded to the familiar faces on your left and right, and the players have done with the pre-match rituals. But though every week you forget what’s about to happen your heart sinks as you hear the screeching feedback of the stadium’s ancient PA system crackle into life. Oh shit, here we go again …

In grave sepulchral tones, the tannoy announcer does his stuff. “Ladies and gentlemen would you please be upstanding and join together in observing a minute’s silence in honour of Joey the Budgie who tragically succumbed to beak rash earlier this week at the F.A. Headquarters.” Up and down the nation budgies sorrowfully nudge each other on their perches. “Poor Joey. Why is it always the good ones?”

one-minute

And I have just one question at this point. Why does football have to do this? Why is it deemed to be football’s responsibility to hold a minute’s silence every time someone or something dies? Is it so widespread in rugby? What about cricket, golf, tennis?

Now I’m really not wanting to be insensitive here. We all know a tragedy when we see one. We’re all touched by them at some point in our lives and in principle I have nothing at all against public expressions of respect, grief, or whatever. I just don’t get why football has got itself so mawkishly obsessed with this ritual to the point where any respectful intention has long since been watered down to something pretty meaningless. Frankly, it’s daft.

I recall going to a lower league Scottish match a few years back. It was the depths of winter and the few hardy souls that made up the contingent of home fans, of which I was a bemused part, were huddled together in the main stand trying to keep warm rather like Emperor Penguins do during Antarctic storms. We were hectored into standing up to observe a silence for someone or other and I swear not one of us had a clue who it was, the consensus of opinion being that perhaps one of the more elderly season ticket holders had become detached from the edge of the huddle the previous weekend and had frozen to death.

I admit, of late, things have stabilised a tad. That is to say they’ve stopped getting worse. Four or five years ago minute silences were threatening to go exponential. Indeed some silences were being used to commemorate more than one ‘tragedy’. Furthermore, some of these periods of staring into space appeared to merit two minutes rather than one, as if there was a scale of tragedy-ness that could be used to set appropriate time periods. We were heading inexorably for half time minute silences, and perhaps even post-game ones with no one getting to leave the stadium until it was all done. That little piece of bad news tucked away on page thirteen of the local rag would need to be marked before everyone could go home and have their tea.

Be thankful for small mercies that we’ve drawn back from that particular madness then. And in fairness we’ve had the introduction of the minute’s applause, an innovation that may have slightly alleviated matters, the idea being to express the celebration of a life well led, such as that of the recently departed Nelson Mandela, or perhaps to celebrate a life less well led but at least riotously enjoyed (take a bow George Best).

But really, do we have to do any of this? Surely these moments, if they are to return to being sincere and meaningful, should be reserved for marking the passing of the true greats of the game (Bestie, certainly). People of the stature of Mandela are few and far between and may receive a nod if you really insist, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone over Poppy Day weekend but please, let’s agree to draw the line somewhere, anywhere.

Let’s get shut of this awful navel gazing malarkey but, now that we have it kind of enshrined as part of the game, let’s keep hold of the minute and do something more appropriate with it. The applause thing was a decent move in the right direction but we can do better.

Fans at each club could tailor this minute to suit their own ends, perhaps as a way of launching some kind of colourful protest. For example, at Saint James’ Park Newcastle fans could indulge in a minute’s pissing in the wind to acknowledge the commencement of another 90 minutes of committed support at considerable expense that’s all ultimately going to end in dreams crushed by bungling management.

At Anfield Liverpool fans could make satirical comments on the state of their squad. They could spend a minute filing out and then back into the Kop; out, in, out, in, a kind or pre-match hokey cokey if you will in reference to Luis Suarez’s ongoing will-he-won’t-he bugger off at the end of the season saga.

Fans could use the sixty seconds to emphasise cultural or philosophical positions identified with their club. All future Chelsea/Man City games (‘Los Cashicos’) could be marked with a minute of waving wads of cash (fake or real, it doesn’t matter, it’s the spirit of the thing that counts). This may be happening already, I don’t know, but if so let’s move to formalise it.

And it needn’t be just the fans. The players can get in on the act too. At White Hart Lane it occurs that the minute could be taken for whatever eleven the current Spurs manager has thrown together to introduce themselves to one another before the game gets underway.

And on it goes. The possibilities are endless, but please let’s pass on the phoney reverence next time a gin soaked minor royal croaks in his sleep or somebody chokes on a pre-match steak and kidney pie or whatever. It’s sad, yes, but so are lots of things and it’s precisely because football’s not more important than life and death we go to watch it in the first place.

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