There are plenty of reprehensible features of modern football which we ought to lament. The rise of adults in full replica kits and filming matches on iPads are just two. But few irk me quite as much as the half and half scarf.
For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, just take yourself on a walk down Market Street next time either of the Manchester teams are at home. Amongst the selection of shit hats and string legged dancing Bart Simpsons, there will appear to be a selection of City or United scarves. But take a closer look.
Half of the scarf will occasionally adorn the name and colour of another team – usually that night’s opponent. It’s bad enough that they’re even sold – but of late they’ve begun to infiltrate our stadia, too.
As the camera pans to the stands on almost any high profile game, you will see them. The Merseyside derby is a recent example. They used to be confined to the showpiece games – Wembley cup finals, say. Now they’re knocking them out every week. A commemorative half-and-half scarf for the Mickey-Mouse-tin-pot-Capital-One-cup-semi-final-second-leg between United and Sunderland? Sod off.
Now before you stop reading and label me trivial/pathetic/nonsensical/dickhead (delete as appropriate), hear me out. There’s a serious point here.
Let me make it clear that I have nothing against scarves. I’d even go as far as to say I’m an advocate. I even have football scarves – including a Mancini-esque hooped claret and blue number, and even a hand-me-down of my Grandad’s from the early 70s.
The causal link is this. I am a fan of x > I go to x matches > x doesn’t experience any other season than winter > I wear an x scarf. It’s a fairly logical train of thought. So why do so many end up sporting their opponent’s badge around their neck? Both reasons are as bleak as eachother.
The first is the trend to commodify and capture memories. Any of you with football supporting Grandparents will undoubtedly have heard vivid stories of trophy parades, promotions, and more importantly, an overriding sense of belonging and occasion. Our generation? We have a half-and-half scarf, a commemorative mug and an iPhone video clip which looks like it’s been filmed by a person having a fit in the midst of a riot.
Concerts have taken a largely similar turn. We seem more intent upon proving our attendance than actually enjoying the experience as it happens. Now I’m of course not saying that the half-and-half scarf prevents you from experiencing that sense of belonging. But they embody a trend whereby telling people ‘I was there’ is becoming more valuable than being there in itself.
Secondly, and more worryingly, it is a product of the depressing trend in the relationship many fans have with their clubs. The global expansion of football and subsequent Premiership era has encouraged people to abandon the notion that football clubs ought to be rooted in a community.
There is a reason why I’m yet to see such a specimen for West Ham-Millwall or Sunderland-Newcastle. It’s because to a lot of these fans, such matches don’t embody a grand showcase of entertainment. The fans aren’t there to be awed. They are there instead out of a fierce rivalry based in devoted support to their home or adopted team.
A telling quote doing the rounds on the twitter is ‘don’t let your kids grow up thinking football is a TV show’. But too many do. They flock to the big games in the manner of the middle-aged WWE fans we laugh at so much, picking up their mementos of the night’s main event. It’s their money of course, and they are free to spend it as they wish.
But I can’t help but think they’re misunderstanding the reasons which make these games so high profile in the first place.
Many will of course disagree. We all have our opinions, after all. But the more we allow our football stadia to succumb to the trappings of tourism, the more we diminish the value of what attracts so many people there in the first place.