Peter York On Ads: Now this is what I call fantasy football

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The Independent Online

I am the one and only. The last London, vaguely media-ish middle-class person left alive without a stated football team affiliation. I know curators who can enthuse about Arsenal, literary novelists utterly committed to QPR and Whitehall double-first mandarins who can talk convincingly about the current Spurs line-up.

But, worse, I have no substantive interest in the game - the actually doing of the football - at all. There, I've said it. But I am interested when footballers enlist in other categories. Becoming a large-ish sub-group of the medium-rich like, say, lottery winners. Or joining the group of men with model wives. Or becoming all-purpose celebrities covered by the celebrity press.

Or even my neighbours. A Premier League footballer once bought the house next door and proposed, according to the planning thing the council sends round for neighbourly comment, to excavate an underground swimming pool and gym, to landscape the garden in a rather invasive way and live in grand style. Some of our other neighbours were appalled (they couldn't afford to do all that) but I was thrilled. Footballers' Wives had just started and I thought I'd be able to see The Life - the women, the clothes, the barbecue parties - from my back window. It never actually happened. He was diverted to Chelsea by a girlfriend who had told him that was where one had to live. With a nicer class of person.

Any thorough-going social analyst could trace the process whereby the chattering classes felt positively obliged to adopt football as a badge of demotic alignment - more powerful, more authentic than pop music. We could relate it to income trends, or to the increasingly viability of the clubs themselves as businesses. Or their growing share of TV schedules (as the live audience went down). He could do a hegemonic study - always a fun thing - comparing it with, say, the admiration for modern Japanese culture in the 1980s. Remember how people rattled on about Comme des Garçons and manga and all that stuff in the 1980s, precisely as the Nikkei was shooting up (barely a peep when it was in free-fall in the 1990s)? You could do a cross-check against the spread of Mockney among people whose original dialect was RP and whose original games had been rugby and cricket, not football.

You could cut it every which way to show how the echt middle classes came to love football - and that's only the girls. This recasting of enthusiasms - like the adoption of black culture - involves a fair bit of wishful thinking for more mature bourgeois recruits to the fold - people whose real cultural lives had started with Monteverdi choirs, followed by a small safe dose of public-school rockers. They can't really remember the football teams of the 1970s because they hadn't taken it up then, in the Golden Age when everyone was called Bobby, following on a generation when they were all called Stan. Robby Bobson, for instance, or the respected manager Bobby Robson. Or Bobby Charlton and his brother Robby Charlton. All those Bobby's and Robbies - not the Larses and Thierries, Carloses and Ekows - are the back-story of the old football-and-chips world. If you don't know them you'll have to get round it, if you follow my drift.

All the Robby Bobbies appear in the new Carlsberg commercial. Don't ask me, but there's certainly Robson and Charlton and a fair few more. They're assembled, rather poignantly, in the shadow of a gasometer, to play a veterans' game, to be an old pub team from the Old Lion. So there are a lot of wheezy old men running up and down the scraggy old pitch, being lectured by Robson (wasn't he the star of that rather brilliant commercial where he was everyone, a Northern stadium full of Robsons?) in the dressing room. And then going back to the Old Lion - so absolutely not a puy lentils and garlic mash gastropub - to do The Way We Were, before consultants, brand development, scent licensing (you can buy the Beckham cologne on easyJet) or any of the intrusive signs of middle-class fiddlers and fixers from fast-gentrifying London postcodes. It's part of that series of Carlsberg fantasies - they don't run banks but if they did they'd be lovely ones, and so forth - and must have cost a fair bit to make. Whether it'll really hit the nerve among the thirtysomething Oxbridge set in Hampstead NW3 is another matter. You'll have to ask David Baddiel.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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