Spot-fixing is very much back on English football's agenda. Given the opportunity to make a lot of money very quickly and with little effort, Johnny isn't that surprised...
You don't have to be a Manchester United fan to feel nostalgic when you read about the Class of '92. Ordinary boys in the middle of an extraordinary coincidence...
There was a time when I was a bearded long-haired rock 'n' roll type dude who looked like he lived under a rock, back when being such a thing was seen by some of the older generation as being a threat to the established order.
So when I strolled into this bloke's hardware store in Newcastle in the winter of '80 looking for some self-tapping screws, as you do, I was met by the harsh stare of a proprietor who didn't like hippies in his shop. As I browsed his fine selection of threaded metal connecting devices, I sensed his ire even at a distance.
'Got any self-tappers, mate?' I said, in as friendly a tone as possible. After all, who wants trouble when you're buying screws?
'Why don't you get back to your free shops?' he said with little hesitation, as though he had been brooding on this for some time.
'Free shops? What free shops are they, like?' I said, somewhat taken aback by his aggressive stance and yet keen to educate myself about the location of a retail environment so liberal it would give things away.
'You know...,' he said with menace, fixing me with a gimlet eyes, adding, '...you know,' again as though he was on to me and mine and our outrageous free shop plot to undermine western society. He gestured at me to leave his establishment immediately.
I stared at him. wondering if it was actually him who had been on the good medicine and not me. What was he talking about? I still have no idea to this day though I've no doubt, long into his dotage, he regaled his family with tales of how he saw off a long-haired grebo from his premises and thus made his stand for all that is decent and holy.
Looking back on this, I guess looking like Cousin It's brother was a deliberate choice in order to tell strangers what side of the fence you sat on. But no fence really existed and soon enough you learned that other people who looked just like you were actually utter bastards and you weren't in some notional cultural battle at all, you were just a silly boy. Such are your teenage years.
But even today, perhaps more than ever, what you wear says something about you. Thus when a list of the top ten worldwide sales of Premier League replica shirts was released this week, I found myself wondering what on earth it said about those who bought them. The top ten is as follows:
10. Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
9. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
8. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
7. Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
6. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
5. Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
4. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
3. Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United)
2. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
1. Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
I must declare an interest here; I would never wear a football shirt with anyone's name on the back. What does it prove and to whom and why? So you like this player, okay, now what? Mind you, I'd not even wear a replica shirt. There's always been something of an unsettling herd mentality in the donning of football shirts - and I grew up in an era where you couldn't buy replica shirts, official or otherwise. Oddly, we were not any less happy for not paying a ton of money for a piece of cloth that costs pennies to make and preferred to spend our money on records instead. Culture should always win over corporate merchandise, shouldn't it?
RVP is the top seller because he's the best player at the most supported club. That's exactly what is unpleasant about shirts with players' names on - they appeal most to people with no imagination, who merely want to align themselves with success. Oh, you like the best player do you? Well bloody done. How hard a choice was that? And why do you care that we all know you like this player? We don't know you, your choices of cultural icon are irrelevant to us.
Now, I could almost see the point in wearing a United shirt with the name of Anderson or one of the obscure reserves. In its wilful obscurity, in its celebration of the fattest man in the team, it is saying something. Not much, admittedly, but at least you're not going along the easy route.
Clearly Kagawa's sales are driven by the Far East support for United who are saying 'we like the only Japanese man in the biggest club in the league'. It's the herd mentality made extant.
Torres' inclusion is perhaps the only one which could have some ironic quality. You'd like to think that these shirts were bought out of a sense of solidarity with those of us who are cursed with being publicly rubbish at something.
I am being very judgemental here, I realise. You might say that it's only a shirt so I shouldn't read too much into it, and maybe you're right, but it's hard not to think that if you see somebody in a 'Rooney' shirt, you immediately know what kind of person they are. So maybe they're doing us all a favour. Like being a long-haired grebo, it's a calling card, a shortcut to tell people who you are and what you're all about. So maybe I should be fixing these shirt-wearers with the stink eye and gesturing angrily towards them, shouting 'get back to your club shops'. Or maybe not.
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