In praise of the simple vimpel

WE ALL love bringing a souvenir back from our travels, from snow globes to sombreros, the British have always overloaded their suitcases with objet d’art or tat from their travels. Look carefully in your own home, is there any evidence of a life spent in airport lounges and beaches on the Med?

From my own perspective, I cannot claim to be immune from this addiction – we have glass from Finland, lava from Iceland, a slab of the Berlin Wall, and a clock by a namesake from Copenhagen, along with the obligatory Russian dolls from Moscow. But in my office, I have my own indulgences. I collect football club pennants and have done so for 25 years.

It started in Copenhagen when a Brøndby player turned up at a family event and presented me with a pennant of his club. I didn’t like to tell him that my favourite Danish club was Randers and in Copenhagen, KB, which went on to become part of the FC Copenhagen super club. However, this prompted me to try and get a pennant in every city that I visited, whether it be as a result of football or business, or both.

Mostly, I have been successful and I’ve got a pennant, or vimpel as they seem to call them in some countries. In Budapest, there’s a great little shop on one of the main drags that sells pennants from all over Europe, while in Prague, the Sparta shop in the heart of the old town sells vintage stock including a curious mix of clubs.

But mostly, the pennant, which for many, many years, was a colourful representation of a club and its imagery, appears to be an old fashioned item that has been usurped by more modern souvenirs, ranging from mouse mats to underwear and USB sticks! Back when I was a lad, the idea of a replica shirt was almost unheard of, certainly as an item to wear at a game. The average fan wore a scarf made of ersatz wool or the so-called “silk” which were probably a fire hazard. If I manage to get a pennant when I travel, I am happy, but I appreciate that one man’s passion is another’s man’s yawn!

The contemporary way to evidence “I was there” is the increasingly irritating selfie. If it’s not badgering a celebrity or footballer to have a picture taken (I have seen mature people stand with their arms around uncomfortable players taking pictures with their thumbs up), it’s taking shots at a game with the stadium as a backdrop. Just visit the top deck at Chelsea and the number of tourists constantly positioning their mobile phone to take [yet another] picture of them grinning with a bagful of merchandise. I actually sympathise with the players or celebrities – I once saw Matt Lucas being harassed at London Kings Cross by an over-eager fan who was desperate to have a selfie taken even though Lucas was clearly preoccupied and just a little irritated. Literally seconds later, I saw Simon Callow as we both bought a cup of coffee. Tempted as I was to say hello (as I like Mr Callow) I merely nodded at him and you could tell he appreciated the privacy.

Today, people crave acknowledgement and use social media to give the impression they have wonderfully exciting lives. We travel more than we have ever been able to do, the number of places in the world where guidebooks like Lonely Planet and Rough Guide haven’t been are diminishing – there’s precious few paths that have remained untrodden. But we still like to show that we’ve been there. It used to be stickers on the suitcase, stamps in the passport (good news for Brexit fans, you’re about to start getting them again) and postcards to friends and family. “Wish you were here” and all that, and we’re not talking about the classic Pink Floyd album.

While my souvenir is the pennant, which if nothing else, livens up my office walls, other people will take photos, keep all sorts of ephemera like match tickets, programmes, train tickets, maps and buy tacky souvenirs such as a key ring, a badge, a plaster model of Diego Maradona or perhaps a poster advertising a bull fight. Even in this age where we do, in effect, have everything and can buy anything, we’re still suckers for junk. Whatever turns you on, as they say!

Photo: PA

This article first appeared in the excellent Football Weekends magazine. Reproduced with permission.

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