Mike Rowbottom: Next we'll be voting for the best century

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The Independent Football

So it's official. The 1980s were the best decade ever.

We're not just talking music here. This was not a victory for Boy George over The Beatles, or Blur, or Beethoven. Nor was it a judgement on fashion, with shoulder pads getting the nod over flares, stovepipe hats or doublet and hose. Nor even on sport, with Torvill and Dean taking the plaudits ahead of Prince Obolensky, Rocky Marciano, Duncan Edwards, Bjorn Borg and Eric Cantona.

No, this was a proper, wide-ranging poll conducted on a random section of the population by a promoter of leisure breaks hoping to publicise its name by association. This poll took everything into consideration, ever, and the result was: 1980s.

"We are not surprised the Eighties are the people's favourite decade," a spokesman said, "as it was a great time to live and often overlooked." Couple of problems here, I feel. If it was such a great time to live, why was the Band Aid concert named as most unforgettable moment of the decade? Wasn't that put together to help some people who were not finding the Eighties a great time to live? And what's all this "overlooked" business? Overlooked by whom? In what context? "1978, 1979 ... erm ... 19...90, 1991, 1992..." I don't think so. Or was the spokesman talking about the decade in relation to the 1120s, or that magical period, the 1390s? As an old friend of mine used to say, "You'll find it's very easy to criticise". How right he was.

We are assailed by polls, surfeited with surveys. The Big Read, Britain's Best Castles, Greatest Black Person, Greatest Reality TV Moment, Best Sitcom...

On and on they come, the all-time favourites, and there never seems to be an end to them. What can we do when we have done every decade, covered every castle, sorted every sportsman? One answer is, we can find new categories of things to put into tall towers, like so many coloured building bricks. Best Semi-Detached House. Britain's Best Roundabouts. Greatest Yellow Person. Greatest TV Repeats. God - I'm in the wrong job...

But maybe there are other ways forward. Perhaps the quest for the greatest decade ever, rather than being too big to call, was actually too conservative in its scope.

Why should we restrict ourselves to paltry 10-year helpings of experience? What's wrong with centuries? Let's all vote now on the relative merits of, say, the 16th century (Reformation, Six Wives of Henry VIII, Spanish Armada), the 19th Century (Napoleon, chimney sweeps, industrial revolution), and the 20th (First World War, Ginger Rogers, Coca-Cola).

Or perhaps we're still thinking too small. What about millennia? As we're already well into the latest one (Millennium Dome, S-Club 7 split, Manchester United crisis), I think we have enough of a handle on this particular era to compare and contrast with the last one (Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Swinging Sixties) or the one before (Christ, Vikings, Dark Ages).

Others - more sensible others perhaps - would argue that all these surveys are essentially ludicrous, not least because of their tendency to remove the objects of veneration from their necessary contexts. Without roots, even the plushest rose shrivels.

That tendency is perfectly expressed in those video collections of Greatest Goals that you can buy which reduce footballing climaxes into a numbing sequence of leather spheres being thrashed into onion bags. Justin Fashanu - swivel, turn, shot, goal. Ronnie Radford - pass, run, shoot, goal. Ruud Gullit - jump, head, goal.

It's like the difference between love and pornography. In hindsight, it may be that there is only one truly appropriate subject for the next exercise of this kind - The World's Most Ludicrous Polls.

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