It is among the great sources of regret in professional football, the lost connection between players and fans.
Money is blamed, naturally, for making sure footballers and ‘the people who pay their wages’ are just not on the same page.
We have come to regard the player who swaps shirts with his opponent at half-time to be the perfect symbolic manifestation of this philosophical rift. A public fecklessness that has almost been driven out of the game, yet doubtless lives on in the parts of the stadium tunnel the cameras don’t reach.
Yet when Manchester City players find themselves singing joyfully about Liverpool fans being “battered in the streets” at last season’s Champions League final in Kiev, and when the official club excuse explains fans have been singing the song all season, perhaps we should give thanks that the bond between fans and footballers is not stronger.
We can lay some of the blame for this unfortunate situation on ‘Allez Allez Allez’, the dirge that has conquered football. From its original incarnation as Italian disco hit ‘L’Estate Sta Finendo’, the tune has spread via fans of Napoli and Atletico Madrid and Porto to Liverpool and has since infected the entirety of British football, hypnotising otherwise sensible men into embarrassing themselves in various ways.
It is an epidemic now, and we will only know we are almost out of the woods when we hear it being sung in a GAA context, such as when the Kildare U21s did the Harlem Shake.
Essentially what has happened here, on Manchester City’s jubilant flight home from Brighton with the Premier League trophy, is that players were drawn back into an area we thought they had left behind — the bantz. And when there is banter at work, and camera phones in attendance, we are always likely to end up in a familiar place — controvassy.
Regular readers will know we have kept a watchful eye on the bantz in these quarters, and its close links with controvassy.
We have tried to gain some understanding of this compulsion, among football men, to say and do crude, unnecessary things in search of amusement.
At least until the day, almost two years ago, when former banterer Kieron Dyer announced the winding down of bantz. “It’s getting less and less,” Dyer said on Sky Sports. “The banter does still exist, but it is phasing out, there are more avenues now to report and complain.”
Yet bantz is a survivor. This week, etymologists will have logged an evolution of the verb in the reported news that ex-Chelsea star Shaun Wright-Phillips “has promised to banter his dad Ian Wright” if Arsenal are beaten in the Europa League final. Banter him senseless, no doubt.
In other arenas, banterers walk proudly. Racing trainer Nicky Henderson, bemoaning the exit from the sport of Michael O’Leary, took a step even footballers would baulk at in expressing confidence in his own bantz. “We’ve watched a lot of races together and have enjoyed each other’s banter. He’s a terrific character.”
We can only dream of hearing this terrific character chuntering away in his own rhyming couplets to Allez Allez Allez.
There was, at least, some top, top banter on display during the Leeds-Derby Championship play-off this week. Leeds fans’ new song ‘Stop Crying Frank Lampard’ to the tune of Oasis’ ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ is a genuine classic of the genre. And duly provoked Derby’s mockery of the song, with Lamps miming floods of tears, and his players sporting imaginary binoculars, in tribute to ‘Spygate’.
Tellingly, much of this banter was dispensed via Derby’s social media channels, which engaged in sustained trolling of Leeds’ collapsed promotion bid.
These are now the first clubs out of the bag for the social media guru in search of ‘engagement’: Banter, trolling and the manufactured feud.
“Feuds have become a go-to marketing strategy for fast food companies looking for their voice on social media,” says social account manager Katie Friedman on mobile-marketer.com. “Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman have a faux feud manufactured to sell gin (for Reynolds) and coffee (for Jackman).
“Banter is key. Taking the risk has large rewards and the potential for explosive media attention.”
Amid the mild interest in their march to a domestic treble, perhaps a genuinely bitter feud is the one thing City need, besides a European Cup. Maybe the City players are rebuilding the connection with their social media gurus as much as their fans. Or perhaps they just remembered their bus being battered at Anfield last season. Though it’s even more likely that most of the players had no idea what they were singing along to.
Whatever happened on the plane, we know by now the bantz is a dangerous game, with the potential for explosive attention. As Sean Cox’s brother Martin put it when he understandably took offence at the City lyrics: “Obviously there is banter between football fans but people being battered on the streets is not banter.”
Stefano Righi has described ‘’Estate Sta Finendo’ as the child who grew up and moved away. “When they become big, they leave home, and they go their own way.”
Allez Allez Allez is becoming the child who phones home in the middle of the night from a police cell.
Expect City’s version to be sung longer and louder than ever at Wembley today. On fan site Blue Moon, they have been discussing the tremendous connection they felt with their players, on witnessing the footage.
Though some are examining their consciences. “Why don’t we go back to the song we used to have about searching in the gutter for something to eat and finding a dead cat and thinking it’s a treat.”
We can only hope some disconnect with their players remains.
In Friday’s Irish Examiner, Derek McGrath paid tribute to the media manipulation of Liam Sheedy, for letting the impression form that it would be a massive gamble if he was to play all his talented forwards at the same time. Perhaps the Teneo PR machine’s first victory.
It was an even bigger achievement if he gave those forwards the impression it was a gamble, since they played as if having to prove themselves all over again.
It was a superb spring for Tipp, in the old dampening expectations game. And a quiet spring. Not even the Israeli hackers turned up a WhatsApp rumour from the camp.
In hindsight, it was an obvious move for Sheedy to go with all his old wristsmiths in the Páirc. After all, would you want to be turning, cap in hand, to the old stagers week 2 if the youngsters flopped?
But what’s his next trick, with a county most vulnerable when they are flying?
Waterford only lost by a point last week, despite a supposed identity crisis between madness and method. And despite, after all the talk about Walsh Park, the stadium not popping up with a few points for them. Cork may be bet but Tipp’s long grass is cut.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Another glorious week for the grand old club. “The app continues to perform ahead of expectations,” club exec Richard Arnold confirmed at the quarterly investors call.
The long-time sponsors of the Stairway to Heaven have launched their first women’s football team, set to face Roma on May 26. There’s absolutely no suggestion the women will be allowed to practise every function of the game except scoring goals.
HELL IN A HANDCART
For doing that to poor old Chris. Though, in truth, there’s a lot to be said for taking a club as far as you can, getting sacked just before you deserve to be, and riding the wave of goodwill into another job at a club on the up. Textbook merrygoround navigation.