Tim Sherwood: Straight Outta 1975

That's not a bad thing, according to our Johnny. But it looks incongruous in 2014. We're warming to his approach but this is a time of obfuscation, not honesty...

Last Updated: 11/03/14 at 09:08 Post Comment

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Given the recent revelations about life in the 1970s, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a moral vacuum where we spent most of our time kicking people's heads in outside a football ground, while simultaneously abusing a minor, shouting racist abuse at a passing immigrant and telling misogynist jokes about our mother-in-law. Despite the popularity of 70s design classics, some say there was none of the optimism or idealism of the 60s, none of the money and ambition of the 80s; all we had was prog rock, wild hair, 25p a pint beer and soft porn featuring adults with actual pubic hair. How did we survive?

The reality, as ever, was slightly more nuanced than either the now re-fashioned retro heaven or the revisionist non-PC hell would have you believe. One of the best things about that era was that post-modernism hadn't really been invented yet. So when we saw a footballer or a football manager interviewed there was no media strategy, no marketing, nothing other than an unreconstructed working-class bloke telling it as he saw it.

No-one was over-bothered at offending anyone, so people largely said what they wanted and left it to the viewer to assess whether they were an idiot or a genius or both. This meant throughout the infant media world you could see racism, homophobia, bigotry and misogyny (often all in the same situation comedy) and you just had to work out for yourself where you stood - what was right and what was wrong. No-one told you what your moral compass should be. There were no Twitterstorms or below-the-line hysteria to police or provoke behaviour. You just had to grow some bollocks and sort it out for yourself.

But while watching Tim Sherwood's post-match interview after the 4-0 defeat to the machine-like Chelsea, it was briefly like slipping back to those days. Much of Sherwood's attitude and demeanour is an echo of the 1970s. One of my favourite things to do while watching football is to imagine what character any given man would play in the 1970s Sweeney. It would be hard to over-state how profoundly magnificent The Sweeney was to us when it first appeared.

It might not seem like it now but at the time it was considered raw, edgy and realistic. The bad guys sometimes won, the good guys weren't that good and it ended with a theme tune so melancholic that you were left in doubt that this was all about man's inhumanity to man and not a celebration of violence or crime. It was also very funny. Lines such as 'we're the Sweeney son and we haven't had any dinner', the old classic 'put your trousers on, you're nicked' or my favourite, 'I'm gonna come down on you so hard your going to have to reach up to tie your shoelaces'.

It is into this context where I see Sherwood landing.

Timmy would be the son of an East End villain who has joined the police. He was brought up in the violent, gangster ways of his old man but is trying to fit into the modern world, trying to do better for himself. He doesn't like Regan and Carter's under-hand ways but neither can he shake off the world in which he was raised. He ends up disillusioned with the police and with his dad, isolated from both, belonging nowhere.

When Sherwood was appointed it seemed a crazy thing to do and oh how we laughed. Well, I did anyway. But now, despite that early contempt, I now find myself hugely warming to Sherwood as a character in football's drama. The football is one thing, the blatantly easy, not to say nepotistic ride he's had from the media is another, but there's certainly something endearing about him. It's like there's been a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum and Tim has fallen through from 1975.

And what does he find at a 2014 football club? He finds that some men aren't proper men anymore. They're more concerned with their moisturising routine than playing football. They can't take a bollocking without going in a sulk. You can't rely on them as men. They cry off injured with the smallest tweak. They don't respond to threats or intimidation like they once did. They think men who scream and shout are frankly a bit weird. Yet confusingly, he finds there are others who love his old ways. They know where they stand with a man's man. They know that a stand-up fight, man to man, doesn't have to mean you've fallen out, it can be a bonding experience. They feel inspired to play for and fight for a man who would do the same for them or with them. They prefer this simple machismo to anything cerebral or more complex. 'Get in their facking faces, or I'll kick your facking ar*e up to your shoulderblades,' means something to them in a way that some of the more cerebral approaches to tactics simply do not.

This is Sherwood's dilemma and it was one writ large on his face in that magnificent post-match interview. The performance was an insult - character, being a man, having self-respect, that's what it was all about, not merely playing sport for money. It was almost a moral disdain that Sherwood had for those in the team not pulling their weight like Regan and Carter had for a bent copper, like it was an insult to their professional pride but also as importantly, to their self-regard as men.

It looks so old-fashioned and out-dated because this idea of what being a football man, of just being a man, has been air-brushed out of the game's culture at the top level. Everyone is a psychologist these days, everyone is a tactician, everyone is a stats-whore, everyone is oh-so-bloody sophisticated; some even seem to be more like business gurus or motivational speakers at a conference for middle-management executives in the health food industry. These are days of calculation and post-modern self-regarding, smart-arse smugness, an era when you don't give any hostages to fortune so you end up talking loud but saying nothing. Everything becomes bland. No blame is ever assigned, no toes are trod on. Don't upset the precious player. You never, ever encourage dissension or division. In this culture no-one just stands there, like Tim, looking like a tramp who has woken up in a skip while his words and his demeanour express simple but profound disgust.

Naturally, because the culture has changed, Sherwood has been criticised and maybe the critics are right. Maybe he will have lost the dressing-room and his job too. But so what? Surely we're tired of obfuscation and emotional dishonesty. We're tired of dressing up sh*t like its sugar. We're weary of being sold darkness as though its light. In the bland, vacuous post-match interview culture of modern football, just being well and truly pished off now seems radical, very modern and refreshing.

So actually, maybe Sherwood isn't a throwback at all, maybe he's a throw-forward to a time when football regains a bit of honest no-bull, manly grit and cares less about its wage packet.

As that melancholic Sweeney end music plays, it's easy to imagine Sherwood quitting the force, throwing his badge at Regan and Carter, shaking his head and walking away saying,

"I hate this b**tard place, it's a bloody holiday camp for thieves and weirdoes, all the rubbish....nah, it's all bloody wrong, my son."

Johnny now writes superb northern crime novels. We love them. Check them out here: www.johnnicholsonwriter.com

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