Scottish fans can't be trusted, Tynecastle proved that, so the football's off - Aidan Smith
In our house, gathered round the TV as the news unfolded, we must have resembled one of those families in archive photographs from the Queen’s coronation when the goggle-box was a new-fangled thing. Here the technology was, proving it hadn’t lost its power to unite the nation, and nor indeed at her life’s end, had Her Majesty.
My four-year-old son broke the reverential silence: “So do I not have to go to nursery school tomorrow?”
This alerted his big brother, 15, to the prospect of some degree of suspended animation being deemed necessary, of events being postponed or cancelled, and football most likely being among them - thus ruining the big Dundee awayday.
Archie and his pal Dan had lobbied, implored and begged: please please please could they be allowed to get on a train by themselves, walk up the hill to Tannadice, promise to behave, not sing too many rude songs, keep their phones charged, egress the ground smartly, make the station in good time for the 5.40 home and have the most fantastic time at their first away match unaccompanied by their boring old dads?
There were tears when I told Archie the game was off, which will seem hugely trivial next to those being shed for the Queen, but never underestimate the dramas of self-absorbed, football-daft teenage boys. Or indeed the tenacity, for he then asked: “Would the match have been on if we were independent?”
It’s a very good question, though probably not one that would be answered to Archie’s satisfaction. Alex Salmond, mindful of the leap in the dark that many indy switherers and ditherers would have felt they were undertaking by voting yes, had confirmed that the Queen would remain as head of state. Following him, Nicola Sturgeon has always said likewise.
But this begs another question: when, if at all, should the football stop? If the population went back to their jobs on Friday, why couldn’t footballers go to their work this weekend?
How is watching a match any more disrespectful than if your chosen profession involves moving obscene amounts of money around the financial markets, repossessing the worldly goods of some poor, broke soul, peddling porn or dressing up as trans fat-heavy junk food to leaflet the high streets? Everyone in these realms has been carrying on regardless.
What is it, then, about football which requires the sport to be singled out for special scrutiny, subjecting it to extra rigour and passing more tests?
Well, yes. There was Tynecastle on Thursday night. A minute's silence, immediately shattered by a cry of “F*** the Queen!”, which was shouted down and drowned out by the national anthem, which was disrupted by booing and more obscenities. A horrible mess.
Football is spiky, football is industrial-scale grumpy, football is mental. In normal times these are some of the reasons we love it. But on occasion it goes too far and Thursday night was one such.
I think this weekend’s games were going to be postponed anyway. I’m not passionate about the monarchy though nor am I anti-royalist but scrapping the card was probably the right decision and in any case Tynecastle’s reaction will have simply hardened it for the football authorities.
On Twitter on Friday night one wag posted: “Rugby on - middle-class support. Cricket on - middle-class support. Football off - working-class support. Suffer, peasants.”
He’s right. Football does suffer - if not being able to pause for the death of a head of state who’s served for 70 years could be termed suffering - but it cannot always be trusted to be respectful.
Scotland has previous and Hearts have previous. In 2005 before the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden a large number of their fans booed the minute’s silence for Pope John Paul II. I know it was a large number because I was right in the middle of them, attempting to follow my team’s rivals for a season for a book.
In 1997 Scottish football was accused of being unfeeling by pressing ahead with a World Cup qualifier on the same day as Princess Diana’s funeral. Eventually it bowed to pressure and put the game back 24 hours.
Diana was not Queen but that was when she was being laid to rest. The Queen was the Queen but this weekend’s matches would not have been clashing with her funeral. The circumstances are different, but what would Lizzie, as my late mother affectionately called her, have wanted us to do?
If you didn’t already know, the wall-to-wall TV coverage of her passing confirms she was a whole lot more fun than might have been assumed in the regal role, and wasn’t in the business of denying it to others. She actually wanted that qualifier to go ahead as planned, former SFA chief executive Jim Farry only revealing this some years later having not wanted to stoke the immediate hysteria over Diana’s death.
Football fans can do the right thing. Every Saturday, it seems, there’s a request at a stadium somewhere in the country for a minute’s applause to honour the memory of one of their number. But what happened at Hampden in 2005 went right round the world - the headline on the New York Post was “Soccer fans boo pontiff” - and there were justifiable fears that this weekend some would do the wrong thing.
Yesterday it should have been Aberdeen vs Rangers. Imagine how that one might have gone. “But we weren’t booing as anti-royalists - it was to wind up that lot waving Union Jacks.” That would still be disrespectful. And embarrassing. And imbecilic.
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