CELTIC Park, and the home support are raging. Raging at the ref, at Barcelona and, most of all, Neymar.
For getting Scott Brown sent off by writhing on the turf in the manner of an actor in a Brazilian soap opera who’d just received devastating news (maybe the corner shop had run out of twine). Or by deliberately impaling himself on Broony’s boot. Or by some other grossly conniving means. Raging. But then a beautiful thing happened. The world’s greatest midfielder took his leave and the crowd applauded. Andres Iniesta looked genuinely touched and would remark: “It was a surprise, it was special... to be a goal down and for the people to do that – it was emotional.”
Then, the Etihad Stadium and Manchester City are being thrashed by Bayern Munich. The team who’d just become firm favourites for the so-called best league in the world are being humiliated and the only surprise is the scoreline – three-nil, not six. His work done, Bastian Schweinsteiger departs. His power made a mockery of the claims to greatness of Yaya Toure and he wasn’t even the best Bayern midfielder on the night (that was Toni Kroos). And Schweinsteiger is clapped off and then Arjen Robben is clapped off.
One mad support, one shellshocked support – the same display of jolly good sportery. Is this a trend? Will it ripple through the game, down to where we lurk? Will I feel compelled to applaud St Mirren’s Jim Goodwin for the simple act of not booting my team’s striker up his admittedly conveniently-placed and not very jiggy backside?
This sort of thing happens from time to time. It’s when one team’s fans put aside their disappointment and summon the spirit of Barry Davies, who famously grimaced: “You have to say that’s magnificent.” In Scotland the translation would go: “Aye, no’ bad.” In 1968 at Easter Road Hibs were leading Celtic’s Lisbon Lions 2-1 with 15 minutes to go. Enter Bobby Lennox. Stunned by the comeback, the Hibs fans around me nevertheless applauded Celtic’s fifth goal, which made my first match to feature one of the Old Firm all the more remarkable. And my next experience of jolly good sportery? Well, I’m still waiting for it.
We have to remember we’re football fans, that our natural disposition is one of grumpiness, reinforced by mistrust, cynicism and masochism. The tendency to wallow in despair should mark us down for the next Brazilian soap opera. Football may be middle-class now but it’s not yet ballet and shouldn’t become so. I saw a ballet once. Weird. The audience sat with perfect posture, like they were dancers themselves and, at full-time (?), clapped quietly, precisely and continuously – for absolutely bloody ages.
Checking with friends, no one could remember too many games when an opposition player was applauded. We clap former favourites but that’s different (and anyway not all of them and not if it’s Rangers they’ve just joined). I checked fan sites and found some Liverpool supporters, admittedly a few years ago when the club was at a low ebb, questioning whether the Kop should continue applauding the visiting team’s keeper when he took up position in their goal, a long-standing Anfield tradition.
Season ’68-’69 seems to have been a notable one for jolly good sportery. When, at Anfield, Leeds United secured the point they needed for the First Division title, Bill Shankly told Don Revie to lead his players over to the Kop. “There was silence,” writes Dave Peace in his Shanks book Red or Dead. “Sudden silence, momentary silence. And then there was applause. From the Kop. There were cheers. From the Spion Kop. And the Spion Kop hailed the new champions of England.”
Peace’s writing style makes the Kop’s reaction seem even more dramatic, and it was dramatic enough. I don’t think a big, blousy fad for this sort of thing is imminent and I’m quietly relieved about that. Nevertheless, I applaud the applauders. Man City fans were like Man U’s a few years ago when Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) scored an Old Trafford hat-trick for Real Madrid – they acknowledged brilliance even though it had been devastating. At Celtic Park, even after a quiet game by his supreme standards, Iniesta, pictured left, was applauded simply for being Iniesta.
I’d applaud him, too, but he doesn’t come round my way very often, so I must make do with Jim Goodwin.