A PEOPLE'S GAME

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE NATIONAL FRONT'S football chapter rushes from Dublin to Bruges and back to fulfil an increasingly congested fixture list; Swansea ban Cardiff from sending any supporters to their little local set-to; and Birmingham City's coach (the four-wheeled variety, not the track-suited one) is stoned in Hull. It might not seem the most obvious time for a celebration of the ordinary football fan in the street.

In fact, though, this is just the opportunity to place such events in context. Hooliganism may, as many suspected, have been dormant rather than dead, but there are still 400,000 people every week in Britain going peaceably yet passionately about the business of providing vocal, emotional and financial support for their teams.

If you want the real story of football in the Nineties, look in any match programme. In there among the manager's column of ghosted excuses ("Their sixth goal was clearly offside") and the statistical nuggets ("Good news is that we have never lost to tonight's opponents on a Friday night in February") is confirmation that life goes on for football folk much as it has since the game's first drunken hooligans were sighted about 100 years ago. Coaches are leaving for the away match at Sunderland at midday on Tuesday and will be back at about three o'clock on Wednesday morning; the Junior Reds have arranged two matches, one for boys and one for girls, against visiting fans before next Saturday's League game and anyone who wants to play should contact Sheila.

David Trainer, a 41-year-old photographer from Brixton, had never been to a football match before last May, when he started taking the pictures on these pages. "I was always too apprehensive," he says. "But I was so surprised by how friendly everyone was that I started going round all the London grounds taking pictures." He might have presented football in the capital as a microcosm of English society, from the renovated luxury of Arsenal's Highbury, now tainted by financial scandal, to the negative equity of Leyton Orient with bailiffs at the door. Instead, Trainer has concentrated on people; and found that, whichever sponsored shirts they wear, there is little difference between them.

There is also less intense rivalry these days than fans sometimes pretend, for the legacies of Heysel and Hillsborough include not only safer grounds and better representation for supporters but also a recognition that the match itself can no longer be a matter of life and death. When Manchester United were beating Ipswich 9-0 a fortnight ago, their supporters chanted: "We want 10." Ipswich's took up: "We want one." At the end they applauded one another, exchanging commiseration and congratulation just as the players did. The red and the blue had recognised a camaraderie and a shared purpose.

Comments