There are two days in the year that non-drinkers like myself find awkward: St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Any other time of the year, you can usually find at least two of your friends who are sober enough to carry on a conversation in the pub before you retire to the night-club for beer fuelled hijinks – the beer being in her, obviously. But on those two days, all restraint is thrown out the window. At times I feel as out of place as a Manc in the Kop.
Speaking of which, am I the only one who enjoys looking at television footage of the crowd? I still get a thrill looking at the euphoria among the Reds at Old Toilet; bouncing around on their seats and each other’s shoulders, it looked for all the world like a terrace. And one fan salutes the vanquished Scum with not one, not two, not three but FOUR fingers! A truly priceless moment in sport.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, New Year’s Eve comes and goes, and the lager and spirits come and go as well. Staggering out of bed on New Year’s morning, a doubly appalling vista presents itself. I’ve missed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year concert – scheiße – and secondly, the match against Southampton has not been called off.
The British fascination with playing football during the festive season never ceases to amaze me. The logic behind it is fairly straightforward. Football was once the ultimate working class escape. Marx described religion as being “the opium of the masses”. Like he was with almost everything, he was wrong. Football was the drug designed to suppress the revolutionary instincts of the lumpen proletariat, and it succeeded admirably. It was only natural, therefore, that more matches would be played in what was supposed to be the happiest time of the year. It also gave men more excuses to stay out of the house and go to the pub.
But why this mouldy old tradition is maintained in the 21st century – we’re definitely there now, pedants! – is one of life’s great mysteries. Football used never be played on a Sunday because it was “the work of the Devil!” (© Ian Paisley). Men used work on a Saturday morning before trudging off to stand on a urine-soaked terrace. They used eat cold BSE pies because the cost of getting into the game meant they had only enough money to eat one of the major food groups i.e. fat. These traditions have thankfully been jettisoned, and have taken their rightful place alongside New Coke and the American Football craze that swept Europe a few years back.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like some traditions. A few could do with being revived like Liverpool winning everything in sight or a decent skin flick on Channel 4 on Friday night. But some customs are manifestly crap. Playing four matches in eight or nine days on muddy pitches – or in the case of Anfield, sandy pitches – and with a wind chill factor that would keep an Eskimo in bed is definitely one of them.
And if ever I needed proof of the malign influence of this football jamboree-on-ice on the public, it came on New Year’s Day 2001. I wasn’t at the Southampton game, so I’m open to correction on this one, but looking at it on the telly the whole atmosphere of the place was…wrong. It was as if forty thousand Moonies were having a mass wedding and had all turned up at the wrong place (they were probably meant to be at Goodison). No one, least of all the players, looked as if they wanted to be there with the honourable exception of Steven Gerrard. Ah, the enthusiasm of youth.
The stoicism of the fans in going to these games would impress an, er, Stoic. The Christmas pudding had barely digested – and I mean the pudding consumed on Christmas Day – and yet people were loyally trooping down to the shrine to pay homage. Meanwhile the continental players, used to the mid-winter siesta on the mainland, went through the motions and only managed to produce that stool of a goal from Babbel (although it was as beautiful a turd as I’ve ever seen).
Of course, people are going to think I’m a few hundred words short of a decent article. I don’t go to the Christmas matches so I can’t appreciate the unique atmosphere, doesn’t the footie still serve the function of distracting the masses from their dreary lives, don’t I appreciate that the ‘Pool have a pretty good record over the years in the Christmas period (I do), and why should we copy the rest of Europe and submit to the yoke of Papist tyranny? [Note to sub-editor: check whether people in England worry about Popish plots any more].
But I still say that the sheer tedium of the New Year’s Day clash with the Super Saints (sic) is all the evidence I need to show that the time has come for a mid-winter break in the English game. The fact that everyone disagrees with me leaves me wiiiiiide open to contradiction but since when has that ever worried me?
Go ahead punk: make my New Year’s day.