So what's wrong with oikish behaviour?

Grown men were rolling over ecstatically like children on a beach. It was hilarious, heavenly
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The Independent Online

It was a moment of pure oikishness, the kind of behaviour which so appals the writer and thinker Dr Digby Anderson that he has written a pamphlet on the subject, and there I was in the thick of it. According to Anderson's All Oiks Now, members of the middle-class and the middle-aged have regressed and now ape "the dress and manners of the lower class and yoof". Yup, that was me all right.

It was a moment of pure oikishness, the kind of behaviour which so appals the writer and thinker Dr Digby Anderson that he has written a pamphlet on the subject, and there I was in the thick of it. According to Anderson's All Oiks Now, members of the middle-class and the middle-aged have regressed and now ape "the dress and manners of the lower class and yoof". Yup, that was me all right.

Seen from any objective viewpoint, the event at which I found myself over the weekend was inexcusably stupid. In the company of my son and my girlfriend, I was in a crowd of over 5,000 people at a football ground, but there was not a player on the pitch. We were behaving like loyal fans - chanting, applauding our team's brilliance, jeering the opposition's hopelessness, screaming abuse at the referee - but even the most sloshed supporter (and there were a few of those) must have been aware that, however loudly we shouted, the game would be unaffected.

Queens Park Rangers, our team, were a couple of hundred miles away and we were watching them, praying for the victory that would bring promotion, on what is known as a live beamback, a big screen situated in the middle of the pitch.

It was a glorious, joyously oikish occasion. Going up is not what QPR normally does; in the 20 years since my son and I started supporting them, they have only gone down and a grim, agonising pattern - promise leading to hope leading to numbing disappointment - has been repeated season upon season. So on Saturday, when the promise was actually fulfilled, we became Digby Anderson's nightmare.

When our team scored a goal, fans holding beer bottles shook them wildly showering froth over everyone. In the closing minutes of the game, a fat man in our blue-and-white strip ran on to the pitch and did a crazed dance of delight in front of the screen. Soon hundreds had joined him, running in circles, bouncing up and down, chucking plastic cans in the air. Grown men were to be seen throwing themselves on the ground and rolling over ecstatically like children on the beach. It was hilarious, heavenly.

Digby Anderson is not the only thinker to be dismayed by this kind of decline in social behaviour. Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, a former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, has just published a book called In Defence of Aristocracy, in which our loss of gentlemanliness is blamed on the lack of toffs, nobs and "civilised people" in government and in national institutions. His fellow Old Etonian, the novelist and sportswriter Will Buckley, blames more specifically our football-obsessed culture. Promoting his novel The Man Who Hated Football, Buckley has been popping up all over the media, arguing that the country has become unhealthily obsessed with the game, which he describes as "a childish pursuit".

Our great poet laureate approaches the same problem from a different direction. The beery stupidity of football crowds is, thanks to Andrew Motion's efforts, to be civilised by what is to be called "a chant laureate" who will tap into the folk poetry of crowds.

Jonny Hurst, the man who will trouser £10,000 in return for some new chants, is a Birmingham City fan whose song for his own team, a re-working of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man", opens with the words "Sometimes it's hard to be a Blues fan" - surely worth 10 grand of anyone's money. How I wish I could have gathered this group of sincere, well-bred men - Andrew, Digby, Jonny, Sir Perry, Will - and taken them down to Loftus Road for the beamback experience. They would soon have discovered that, while there was little folk poetry, no gentlemanliness and a fair amount of oikish childishness, the occasion was generally happy, life-enhancing and harmless.

Buckley may regret the passing of a time when, for many people, attending a football match was largely a social occasion at which the result mattered little, but we live in a high-pressured, competitive age. Partisanship, winning and losing, are bred into us and sometimes shouting at footballers, or at a big screen, offers a small but healthy outlet. One of the useful roles of sport is precisely to give people a break from the world of discipline, prudence, and seriousness which Anderson so values: it is an escape valve.

Of course, it is also right to point out that the obsession with footballers crossed with the new celebrity voyeurism can skew priorities both in the media and within the minds of the vulnerable. I admit that oikishness, taken out of context, quickly loses its charm. Those jolly, tanked-up fans with whom I felt such a curiously intense kinship on Saturday afternoon might well have looked different to me had I been sipping coffee on the Boulevard St Michel when an English team had a big game in Paris.

As for the folk poetry, I am secretly relieved that my team has not risen so high in the world of football that Jonny Hurst will be hanging out at the fan's pub, the Bushranger, working on chants that, in Andrew Motion's words, will range from "the brisk and simple, through the comic and curious, to the elaborate and heartfelt". The dreary but eloquent going-up, going-up, going-up song will do fine for us.

Terblacker@aol.com

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