Reprise: That's Entertainment

Tuesday 12th February 2013 at 7:19PM

If there’s one thing that’s designed to rile a wizened veteran football fanatic, it’s the concept of ‘pre-match’ and ‘half time’ entertainment.  To generalise, there are many who believe that this represents the unacceptable side of the Americanisation of our national game, but for a sport that must attract and grow its support base, it’s an equally necessary concession to the needs of the new fan.

In the one corner, the core long term fan, whose pre-match routine may typically consist of a few quick ones down the local followed by a swift march to the ground, a frantic and loud emptying of the bowels in an overcrowded pissoir before settling down to voice dissent at the team sheet and question the parentage of the manager.  Well, I did say I was going to generalise - and in the other corner, a family bringing their 6 and 7 year old boys to the first game.  The boys have the attention span of an amnesiac guppy so Dad welcomes any distraction – and ‘pre match’ and ‘half time’ entertainment will usually do the trick.

My family’s adventures have revealed that experiencing the varied forms of entertainment on offer is an entertainment in itself.  It’s often more entertaining than the entertainment (if you could entertain that thought).  Prior to 1994 records show that no football club had even contemplated the concept, but a Diana Ross penalty miss in the 1994 World Cup Final opened the floodgates and since then things have begun to change. 

Younger observers may claim that it all began with the Sky deal in 1992, but some of us know better.  Back in the 90s, at Roker Park, fans used to while away the half time period looking for pieces of David Speedie in the paddock near the half way line.  Said rascal had unwisely kicked out at Gary Bennett at a previous fixture and suffered immediate retribution.  Sometimes one fan would be lucky and find a finger, but it was usually just bits of hair and teeth.

My wife Ana has also noticed some common trends in off the pitch entertainment.  She has observed, not unreasonably, that most of it revolves around the theme of kicking a ball into a receptacle of some sort, lest we forget the point of the game itself and spend the second half longing for a field goal, a cover drive or a dunk. 

But she has a point.  At Burnley they kicked a ball into a pie. At Ipswich, as I recall, they kicked a ball into a boat. At Bristol City they kicked a ball onto a bicycle handlebar (perhaps Philippe Starck was doing a bit of his ironic re-interpretative work there, but we never quite got it) and at Palace they kicked a ball into a shed (it’s called ‘on me shed son’). In most other places they attempt to kick the ball through some holes in a goal-sized target, like at Newcastle a couple of years ago. On our last visit, fans had to kick the ball into Malcolm MacDonald’s mouth.  And believe me, that’s not as hard as it sounds.

Of course it’s not all a load of receptacles.  We have seen clubs adopt the very American habit of having a parade of cheerleaders applaud the players on to the pitch.  However, due to the vagaries of the British climate, the girls often resemble the creatures that came out of the spaceship in Close Encounters – confused, cold and not at all sure about Richard Dreyfuss. 

At Bolton they celebrate a goal with a blast of music, quickly followed by a flag bearer hurtling down the touchline.  Now some fans question the introduction of music, but I would go further and have the music reflect the type of goal that has just been scored. If Alex Ferguson’s boys score in the 14th minute of injury time, why not have a blast of ‘and now, the end is near’? 

Lately we had the Red Barrows at Colchester – a synchronised female dance troupe performing with wheelbarrows with Red Arrows livery. Yes, really.   And you could have had a Zorb race across the pitch at Tynecastle.

You may think this all a bit too surreal, but you were obviously not at Dagenham and Redbridge a few years ago when the half time entertainment consisted of a performance poet evoking George Best’s descent into alcoholism to the bemusement of the crowd, or at Bury a couple of seasons ago when the two minutes’ silence for Remembrance Day was followed by the DJ playing ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

‘That’s entertainment’ as the Jam once sang, but ‘not as we know it’ as Star Trek’s Scotty would have retorted.

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