Football: Wham, bam, thank you fans, then pile in for the celebrations

MIKE ROWBOTTOM On the highs and lows of football videos
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The Independent Online
THERE are so many little ways in which one can make family life run more smoothly: No shouting down or interrupting during meal times, no playing with Space Invader games or virtual pets after supper time. No singing after bedtime.

These are innovations which, due to local resistance, I have yet to establish in my household. But in time I feel confident that I shall mention them again... In the meantime, however, one Good Idea has taken hold, a means of avoiding those wearing and ultimately pointless, arguments about who recorded over who's programme on what tape. The solution is simple, and it is this: a named videotape for each member of the family.

There only seems to be one operating difficulty with this system. Why is it that my tape is filled with inviolable recordings of Top of the Pops, Tellytubbies and Home Front?

Pondering on the iniquity of this arrangement one evening, I sought solace in a number of videos which were incontestably mine. Sporting videos, that is: "So Billy Bonds lifts that famous old trophy again," Brian Moore intones. "The prelude to a homecoming down the streets of London's East End, that for its fervour and its warmth would be almost impossible to match... It's one big happy Hammers family..."

The tone of West Ham United's official video history is swiftly established. "Relive the Hammers' greatest moments," the front cover urges. Three FA Cups, one European Cup-Winners' Cup - reasonable pickings in a 103- year history without being overwhelming. Put it this way - there is space and time to appreciate each victory fully.

The familiar images roll again: Trevor Brooking stooping to head the only goal of the 1980 FA Cup Final. Ha. Arsenal. Didn't win that one, did you? Alan Taylor securing the same trophy five years earlier with a pair of goals which left Fulham's keeper, Peter Mellor, looking like a man in need of intensive counselling.

And those vivid pictures of the 1964 Cup final celebrations, where wing- half Eddie Bovington bops his team-mates over the head with a supporters' replica of a giant claret-and-sky-blue hammer. Nowadays, of course, you wouldn't get such an item through the turnstile - and not because of its size.

These club videos can have hidden dangers for those participating. Moore maintains his usual off-screen presence - the kindly uncle, jollying the party along - and in that respect he is lucky, because there is no record of any fashion faux pas.

Alas, his interviewees are not so fortunate - and among them, none is less fortunate than Brooking, fresher of face and darker of mane than he appears on Match of the Day these days. His contribution, thoughts on the essential qualities of the club he served, are undermined by the impact of the jersey he has chosen. It's a kind of lurid green, white and black contour map. I can't think about it any more...

The overall effect of watching such videos is reassuring rather than inspiring. It is an act of confirmation, as much as affirmation. And I admit, one of the satisfactions for me is the fact that no one else in this family is in on it.

"This makes the local elections look interesting," commented my wife as the history looped back to the club's previous incarnation as Thames Iron Works. Her patience was strained still further by my next choice of viewing: The World's Greatest Goals, Vol II - sweet revenge for the simperings of Home Front.

If you equate football with sex - for the purposes of argument - then these "greatest goal" compilations are all about the basic act, over and over and over again. There is precious little foreplay - it's pass, score, cross, score; pass, score. Wham, bam, thank you fans, and everyone piling in for the celebration.

But as I watched the balls being thrashed into the net from every conceivable angle - Norbert Nachtweih. Goal! Bixente Lizarazu. Goal! Yvan Lebourgeois. Goal! - To musical backing that sounded like Lieutenant Pigeon - plinkerty- plonk, kerplonk, plonk, plinkerty-plonk, plonk - a dismal fact was borne in upon me that this was getting boring.

Cut a goal out of its context, and it is like taking a fish from its watery habitat. It may wiggle about a bit, but its power to move is severely diminished. I was experiencing Meaning Deficiency Syndrome and I knew that I had to act fast. Thankfully, help was at hand: "The 1966 World Cup Final. England v West Germany. The full match!"

It is, of course, a wonderful match, an historic occasion. But after I had scrutinised the play, and noted once more the defensive hesitancy which caused Ray Wilson to offer Helmut Haller the opportunity of giving the Germans an early lead, my experience of the occasion was truncated. Starting awake to recover the almost empty lager can which had dropped from my hand, I noticed that there were people on the pitch who thought it was all over.

In that moment I recalled the previous time I had watched this match. It had ended, for me, shortly after Martin Peters had given England the lead. I made a mental note to concentrate much harder next time.

"These videos are for sad people," says my wife. She is clearly wrong. And, as soon as I can think of the reasons why, I will argue my case...

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