Mike Rowbottom: Touching tales of Premiership-winning fantasies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Should you happen to be in High Street, Bridgwater today, and should you happen to drop into Barclays Bank, a glittering opportunity awaits you. According to the publicity blurb, the FA Premiership Trophy, currently on tour in the West Country, will be yours to hold, just as Roy Keane, Tony Adams, Alan Shearer and, er, Roy Keane have done in the course of the last nine years.

"Get your hands on this!" the publicity proclaims. Although in fact you won't be able to, as the Trophy stands behind a sign saying 'Please don't touch.' The only persons authorised to pick the silverware up are the two burly security guards whose job it is to stand alongside the mighty bauble in its various locations. And when they do, they wear white gloves.

That said, this is the real thing – or at least the latest version of the real thing which will be brandished by this season's Premiership winners. Enough, at any rate, to have caused congestion in the banking halls of Sussex, Hampshire, Devon and now Somerset.

The thing is, once you are standing in front of such an object, and have mastered the natural urge to pick it up and shake it at the sky, what do you do? Here am I. Here is the FA Premiership Trophy. Now what? A manager at the Exeter branch which hosted Thursday's display reports that there were two main tactics employed by those who wandered into the foyer. The first, naturally enough, involved having photos taken of themselves alongside the showpiece item – the classic mode we all employ to connect ourselves with something famous or unusual.

The second tactic was a little more ingenious, as supporters brought in scarves of their choice to set alongside the silver. "I think they were putting it on their dream wish list," said the manager. "I brought my husband's Watford scarf in and got a picture of the trophy with that." Having seen Watford this season I think I'm on fairly safe ground to say that their colours will not be draped around the Premiership Trophy in real life for a good many seasons to come. But somewhere in the house where the Exeter branch manager lives, that fantasy lives too.

Years ago, before Wembley was pulled apart to be redeveloped, or re-built, or allowed to rot, or whatever it turns out to be, I had an opportunity to wander around the old stadium – up onto the steps where the teams queued for their medals, into the old North dressing room which England had before winning the 1966 World Cup – remember that? – and which Tottenham had before Ricky Villa's slalom run won them the FA Cup in 1981.

I recall thinking that the showers looked, as my daughter might say, pretty skanky, and that the high windows didn't let in much light. I recall thinking of all those players over the years, in this particular little room, preparing themselves for the fray, slinking back beaten or romping in victorious. And wondering what it would have been like to be them...

We always try to connect ourselves in these circumstances, to imagine ourselves in the place of others.

Back in the mid-Eighties, when Charlton were obliged to play at Selhurst Park while discussion raged over the future of their dilapidated old ground at The Valley, I visited the latter stadium in search of a bit of background detail.

Weeds grew on the vast banks of terracing. In the main stand, the directors' seats were distinguished from the others by plush inlays, out of which stuffing was now protruding. A couple of boys were playing there, taking it in turns to sit in the traditional vantage points of the men who had run the club, putting on voices and waving their arms around.

The same instinct operates when your average football fan is faced with a glittering cup. "Please don't touch" – the notice is needed.

Perhaps that is the reason why the old tours of Wembley, in which groups of schoolchildren were escorted around the key areas and allowed to take turns in raising a cup aloft in the Royal Box were always so popular.

Perhaps that is the reason why other attempts to showcase footballing history failed to establish themselves. When I was a schoolboy, I visited something called the Football Hall of Fame in central London, and spent a fair amount of time gawping at Pele's shirt in a glass case and Billy Meredith's shirt in another glass case and a laced leather football in another glass case. The exhibition didn't last long.

A similar thing happened seven years ago, when an exhibition of sporting silverware was set up at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was all there – football cups, boxing belts, rugby trophies – and yet it too closed down after a matter of months. Too remote. They needed a few scarves slinging over them.