IN THOSE sepia-tinted days, the memento of a football match was the programme, hence they were called just that, “Souvenir Programme”, a reminder of an afternoon or evening shouting yourself hoarse for 90 minutes of exhilaration or disappointment. Programmes are, sadly, dying out and it is hard to see a future beyond five years for a commodity that was once a staple of any matchday.
There were other items of memorabilia that accompanied the fan experience: rossettes, rattles and scarves. The wool version of the scarf was later replaced or complemented by a “silk” version, although there wasn’t an ounce of silk in them and you didn’t want to get too close to anyone with a cigarette in their hand for fear of third degree burns. Football violence dissuaded many fans from carrying their colours, but in the Premier League age, the sign of allegiance is the football shirt, that highly flammable, static-inducing garment that beer bellies and bingo wings are squeezed into at every opportunity.
Football in major cities has become a tourist attraction and crowds at places like Stamford Bridge, the Emirates and the Tottenham stadium are full of day-trippers and visitors to London. They empty the club stores of merchandise, hungrily snapping-up evidence of their trip. At the same time, they take photos on their phones, even record the action from high up in the stands. Quite often, they will have a scarf around their neck, a poorly-constructed strip of synthetic fabric with the fixture emblazoned across it: Chelsea v Lille or Arsenal v Villareal, for example.
Regulars and old-school supporters despise these scarves, considering they are unnecessary and a sign of a lack of fanatical, even myopic, devotion to the cause. They also reflect the contemporary need to demonstrate where the owner of the scarf has been. Doubtless, the item will be seen on social media before the game has even kicked off.
But what is so offensive about these scarves? I would agree they are unnecessary and pretty tasteless, but then wandering around in your best football shirt is also an acquired habit. Likewise, blind devotion in this age of so many alternatives is also a little limiting. So why not show appreciation for both teams? Why not reveal a flag of friendship?
These scarves have been “invented” to cash in on experience-hungry fans from younger generations. It is doubtful any club would issue official scarves of this nature (maybe they do???), but somewhere, in an industrial unit in a grubby corner of a home counties town, somebody is knocking-out these scarves. It is no different to the many hawkers who peddled metal badges and other such throwaway items that exploited fans eager to fill their homes with memorabilia. We’ve all been there, especially when we were young – I had a leather key ring that buttoned-up to conceal a fold-out strip of tiny shots of the Chelsea team of 1971-72 that I kept for some 30 years. I bought it at the UEFA Cup final at Tottenham in 1972. I was recently in Madrid and the craze has arrived in the Spanish capital, although “Atlético v Menchester United” is sure to be a collectable item in the years ahead.
At the end of the day, these items are hardly scarce or even valuable as there have been produced in bulk. And do we really need to wear football shirts to show our passion for the game? Most of us just don’t look good in a shirt designed for a superbly fit and agile 23 year-old. Just compare it to a fashion item – would a 70 year-old buy a tailored shirt designed for a hipster wearing turned-up jeans that give you instant membership of a church choir? Admittedly, the football shirt can be classed as an item of clothing that spans the generations, but does it… really?
Half-and-half scarves are for a specific audience and while I wouldn’t be seen with one draped around my neck, the audience that would buy them, in some ways, represents the future. The old guard are fading fast, their arthritic hips and knees forcing them into the main stand in their living rooms. Ultimately, who needs a football shirt or scarf or that item of mass produced objet d’art to show their preference anyway?