Back in the 1960s and 1970s – possibly later – England used to be accompanied by a man dressed, a la John Bull, in patriotic colours and throwing a few Churchillian gestures. His name was Ken Baily and he was a fixture at most major sporting events. He died in 1993, aged 82.
Baily was the self-appointed England cheerleader, but there’s dozens more like him across football and you have sometimes question the sanity of these people.
There’s that guy from Spain, Manolo, whose been appearing at World Cups and European Championships for years. Manolo’s – real name Manuel Caceres Artesero – devotion to Spanish football has cost him his family and damaged his business. Typically misguided, he says: “I lost everything for football…but I would do it all over again.”
With his drum – they call him Manolo el del Bombo – and his beret, Manolo gets a cheer when he runs on the pitch before each international game played by Spain. He owns a bar close to Valencia’s ground, but when he returned from a trip abroad, he found his wife and children had left. He consoles himself by claiming that the bar “is my place”. Today, Manolo is part of the official party when Spain play, something that is not universally accepted in Spanish footballing circles. He rarely sees his family.
For people like Manolo and John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood, family means the football club or nation of their choice. Westwood is the figure that stands out in the Portsmouth crowd at every game, semi-naked, tattooed, synthetic blue and white dreadlocks, a bell in hand, and a stove pipe hat. He looks like a Dr Seuss character on drugs or a crazed figure from a Shakespearean drama. But you can’t miss him.
Westwood is a man of two identities. By day he is the mild-mannered antiquarian bookseller from Petersfield, on matchdays he is Portsmouth’s leader of the pack.
Such devotion is admirable in many ways, but it also demonstrates a life less rounded. Who would consider having their favourite club’s name engraved on their teeth, or having 60 tattoos all over their body. And why?
Basically, why do people place their well-being in the hands of a bunch of young men in their early to mid-20s? When a hobby becomes all-consuming, and takes over your life, it is no longer a hobby. It becomes your way of life, and being totally dependent on that hobby to determine your mood, your expenditure and your well-being is a very dangerous thing.
Ken Baily and Manolo, at least, were able to see their passions reach a climax with a World Cup victory. But so many people, like Westwood, are hanging their hats on clubs that are not well run. Clubs never pay back the type of lifetime’s devotion shown by these uber-fans. They can’t possibly live up to the expectation.