On the Impossibility of 'Doing a Likely Lads'
Returning to these pages six months after his comparison of Eamon Dunphy’s Only a Game and Garry Nelson’s Left Foot in the Grave, Manchester United supporter Russell George wonders in his latest post whether he’ll ever make it home for the highlights without knowing the score.
On 26th May 1999, Clive Tyldesley memorably said that Manchester United fans would, ‘forever and a day’ ask each other where they watched the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. ‘And 50,000 or so will say “I was there”’. There’s a t-shirt that bears this quote, no doubt aimed solely at a market of 50,000. It’s safe to assume, however, that there will be fewer t-shirts asking where you were when Manchester City won their first league title in 75 years in May. I was driving through Northern Albania.
Helpfully for me, the range of Sky’s coverage of the last day of the season hadn’t reached the southern Balkans. And outside Tirana, Albania’s capital, the prospect of accidentally seeing Judgement Day (or whatever bollocksy name it was called) in a passing café was about as remote as Roberto Mancini entrusting Adam Johnson with the right side of midfield. So, given that I was flying home that evening, it was genuinely possible that – if I closed my eyes going through the terminal at Gatwick and put on headphones on the bus back home – I could ‘do a Likely Lads’ and watch a recording of Match of the Day oblivious to the destination of the title. I wasn’t hopeful about United’s chances, but I was looking forward to watching it all unfold in glorious highlighted technicolour, even if I would pass on Hansen and co’s smug analysis.
How naïve of me. How very 1990s. To hope that I could be on a plane, mainly filled with Albanians, and think no-one would use their smartphone to tell the rest of the passengers that City had won the title, and that Blackburn and Bolton had gone down, on Super Super Sunday? What an idiot. What a dreamer. As we taxi-ed before take-off, a young man with a London accent shouted across to his mates how he couldn’t believe that City had won it (I still share this sentiment). Unable to use my iPod during take-off, I was thwarted. In fact, I came to realise that ‘doing a Likely Lads’ these days is an impossible dream. Thanks to various forms of new media kit, we can find out latest scores, results, even who the ref was about as quickly as looking at your watch. The genie has been released from the bottle, and in the same way that we’re quite happy to tell a stranger the time, everyone is quite happy to announce the football results.
It also means that if you are travelling on public transport whilst your team is playing, it’s almost impossible to concentrate on anything for very long before you check your phone. More obliquely, United and City fans on the last day were robbed of the curious pleasure of rumours circulating among the crowd as to the other’s score, and the slightly other worldly experience of finding out the actual result, akin to waking up from a dream / nightmare. Instant access means everyone is in touch, all the time, robbing single events of their power to consume your attention as you remain up to date with what’s happening elsewhere. Whilst players can get on with the game at hand, supporters on these occasions are hamstrung by being able to know what is happening across the country. And if you are not at the game, the idea that you can wait until Sports Report is a charming pipe dream.
It’s also, of course, to do with the never-ending currency of football. On the night of the Champions League final I was at a gig. A friend of mine, who has about as much interest in football as I do in tractor mechanics, came up to ask whether I’d seen ‘Chelsea win the football?’, thus ruining in a matter of seconds my plan to watch the highlights later on in the evening. When I explained how she had deprived me of my unconsciousness, she was mortified – as she should be. Why should everyone assume that we need to up so up to date? Can’t we focus on what we’re actually doing anymore, without the anxiety that we are behind the curve on the latest news?
It seems, however, that the proliferation of smart phones does now take away the need for drivers on public transport to actually announce the results of major games to their passengers. This has happened to me twice, both times scuppering my intention to watch the highlights in happy ignorance of the score. In 2000, I was on a train to Northampton during the first leg of the England-Scotland play-off. Not only did the driver of the train announce the final score, just after we had stopped at Milton Keynes, but he actually told the train that Paul Scholes had got both goals. What a bastard (the driver, not Scholes).
And in 2008, after spending a weekend in Denmark, I returned the night of the Germany-Spain European Championships final. I successfully made it through the flight and arrivals terminal without knowing what would have been the latest score – no-one really wants to tell you it’s 0-0 and pretty tense – and at about 10pm the coach was nearing my stop on the edge of Oxford. Danish wine in my bag, I was about to watch the final ‘as live’ until the driver decided that his charges could not cope with having missed out on the footy. Gutted wasn’t the word.
It seems, in fact, that watching the highlights of a game of football is just passé these days. Successfully leaving the room in the second the BBC news give you to ‘leave the room now’ would involve Usain Bolt levels of spring. The highlights themselves are also so signposted that there’s little genuine surprise when goals are scored or players are sent off, and we all know that if Aston Villa-Wigan is last on, we can probably go to bed and find out about the uninspiring result in the Sunday papers. That’s if the bloke next door doesn’t start drilling the details in Morse code before we get there of course.
Having said all this, I must admit that it was a relief to know how City had won the title before I watched Match of the Day. My friend told me when we landed at Gatwick, like a doctor being frank and saying, yes, this actually will hurt. Sometimes it’s better to get it over with, to know your fate quickly. Like landing on the moon, actually seeing City win the title may not have been enough to convince me that it had actually happened. I needed Mike and his iPhone for that.