Ricky Gervais is a funny bloke. A far more talented actor than he is ever given credit for and pretty sound on several issues, most obviously our systematic abuse of other species. He also likes to wind people up. Not with the mindless trolling employed by those less cerebrally gifted than him but in a way intended, one suspects, to provoke us to consider what he’s saying and examine our own prejudiced positions.
Lately, via the medium of Twitter, he has been exploring the concept that while calling an individual daft or stupid can be insulting, describing an idea in such terms cannot. By definition an idea shouldn’t really be able to be offended or to take anything we say personally. After all, it doesn’t have a person does it? Many have refused to accept this argument and continued to hurl abuse and incoherent, frothing rage at their screens when he pours scorn on an idea to which they subscribe.
I broadly agree with Mr Gervais on this issue but feel he is a little disingenuous if he really is ignoring certain perfectly understandable human traits inherent in all of us. If, for example, I think an idea is pretty neat and you call that idea a bladder full of rancid rat’s offal then some of that mud sticks to me for holding the aforementioned offal in such high esteem. You are, by association, implying I have either failed to think the thing through or am too hopeless to spot how silly the idea was in the first place. So yes, an idea cannot take offence but the person who sees their idea under fire from the excrement gun is likely to feel smeared by at least a small amount of collateral ordure.
All of this came to mind as I was twiddling my thumbs wondering when the day would dawn when I finally wrote a match-day blog and actually failed entirely to mention the football. I am after all a rank amateur with no inside knowledge or special insight only hired because George enjoyed my ability to turn a phrase or two. Having your name above a newspaper column or blog page does not of itself confer upon you any particular status.
This is the same for celebrity fans who wield no more weight with their opinions simply because their theatrical careers have thrust them into the public eye. I like famous fans to be like Marc Riley or Bob Mortimer who’s public utterances are entirely impossible to separate from yours and mine. Simply supporters cheering their side on, singing when they’re winning and lambasting the ref when he gets it wrong. Just as it should be. Some of our own famous fans have failed spectacularly to realise their place on this earth and have flipped, flopped and issued verbal farts of a most distressing stink since the money which poured into Stamford bridge and Manchester so distorted the Premier League.
I don’t intend to name the one who leaped to mind – these graceless oafs have more than enough coverage without I add sticks to the bonfire of their vanity. I recall him being interviewed on TV just before a big game, possibly a cup final, possibly not. This was back in the golden years and he was purring over how Arsène’s team would pass the opposition of the park and revelling in his association with the club. Years later, during the Stadium Debt Years he only spoke to garner cheap laughs and to make sarcastic remarks at the expense of our players and of course the manager.
I used to despise people like this but then I thought of the whole Ricky Gervais thing and realised what was happening. These vacuous attention hungry whores were basking in the reflected glow of the team and its achievements. By association they felt more successful because their team was successful. When the trophies dried up and the media began their unrelenting campaign of negativity on the subject of all things Arsenal the poor dears felt smeared by that same association.
So this guy panicked and tried everything in his power to say “No no – this doesn’t reflect on me at all, look see, I too think the club is mismanaged, staffed by donkeys and without hope or value. Not only that see how clever I am when I take the piss out of them. Love me, love me, love me.”
He and his ilk simply didn’t want to be conflated with an idea which appeared to be held in derision. They were of course forgetting that a supporter’s role, no matter what their day job, is to support, through, as Bob Wilson’s quote at the top of this and every PA page reminds us, thick and thin.
Just as we supporters were delighted with Yaya Sanogo’s goal scoring feats against Reading yesterday so the failures and birth mistakes among our fanbase, whether famous or humble, greeted the news with sarcasm and scorn. It’s a shame that you and I and those malcontents are talked of by the fence sitters as being all as bad as each other. The one side of the divide does not support the club and we do. It is simply surreal to say a pox on both your houses as if supporting the club is as idiotic and counter productive as not supporting it.
There we are though. This is the fate of the modern fan and it is a burden we must bear with equanimity and good grace. I don’t believe we ought to puff ourselves up with pride when the team does well any more than we should take it personally when Arsène’s ideas are reduced to a hissing and a byword. Neither is down to us.
Having said all of that I must confess that there are few real absolutes in football. Apart from the first commandment “Thou shalt not support Bristol City” and the second “Thou shalt mock any team from Middlesex” the whole thing demands a certain fluidity of thought, a malleability of prejudice from its followers.
Imagine for example Jose Mourinho taking over at Arsenal. I don’t say it would ever happen but if it did we’d have to find something positive not just to say but to think about the man. A man we have held in contempt for so long the habit must be engrained in us like the name of a resort in a stick of rock.
Imagine if the manager of Manchester United took such an exciting and justified stance against the revolting lickspittles of the British press corps that we feel like jumping up and applauding him. Imagine if his side suffered the kind of injury blight usually reserved by the fates only for Arsenal. It might be impossible not to empathise and even sympathise with a club who so recently made our lips curl at the mention of its name. Imagine if they sunk so low in the table that they were no longer a threat. We might find ourselves in a less vituperative mood towards them. Odd how things change. How some of our fans are already turning on Leicester for their tactics, individual players for their cheating, referees for their leniency towards them, the media for fawning over them.
I don’t suggest we should rush out and hug the first Man United fan we meet in the street but today sees us visit a ground no longer reeking of sulphur. A fixture I used to detest over all others has been eclipsed by visits to Stamford Bridge and to the Potteries.
I am not predicting victory, I haven’t, I hope, an hubristic bone in my body, but we do not travel to Salford with anything close to the trepidation as that in days of yore. They are a side unable to put a decent run together so disrupted have their manager’s plans been and we are a side capable of great football but with our goal threat blunt and our scorers misfiring. They will field youngsters eager to impress and we will face a choice between an out of sorts Theo, a delicate and recuperating Danny and Joel a man in danger of becoming sidelined once again. I prefer to see Aaron farther forward and Santi or Jack partnering FC at the base of our midfield but that can’t happen and anyway I’m not a football manager – thank God. Neither am I famous enough to have an opinion that matters.
I just support the club, win, lose or draw. It’s about all any of us can do really. Oh, and I’m going to try not to take it personally if someone thinks that is a stupid idea.