x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

False realities of nostalgia

The announcement that Liverpool will be building a replacement for ol' Anfield was not met so much with surprise as it was anger at the purity of football being tainted with commercialism. But hasn't it always been so?

The gates of Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield Stadium. John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group has been considering stadium options since buying the club and Henry says a move might be inevitable.
The gates of Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield Stadium. John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group has been considering stadium options since buying the club and Henry says a move might be inevitable.

Back in my childhood city of Birmingham, England this week, I made a detour to see the new-look Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

It is a monster.

A giant, crash-landed Zeppelin with a thrusting blue prow stuck on like a hovering Portakabin.

Awful.

I liked the old Edgbaston better: a ramshackle jumble of low-rise stands which seemed to embody the gentle nature of county cricket.

That humble old ground was less a Theatre of Dreams than a Village Hall of Marginally Enhanced Reality. It promised not the roar of the crowd but a smattering of applause, not the tribal whiff of adrenaline but the scent of damp flannel and hard-boiled eggs.

Not that I ever went there, of course. Goodness, no. Cricket was boring. I am simply exercising my right as a free-born sports fan. Namely, moaning about any form of change or progress, even progress undertaken to ensure the very survival of a sport or club, and harking back to a golden age.

On this note, prepare yourself for a deluge of anti-progress griping from Liverpool fans in the coming days, as it seems Anfield, their stadium, is definitely doomed.

When John Henry bought the club last year, there was hope that he would sympathetically refurbish the existing stadium as he did to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. He even said on record that "Anfield would certainly be our first choice", albeit with doom-laden caveats. Now the option of an updated Anfield reportedly is off the table, and Mr Henry is keen to press on with a new stadium in nearby Stanley Park.

A new home will be hard enough for die-hard Liverpool fans to swallow, as they cling ever more tightly to fading memories of those "special nights". Harder still will be the name-change, which also seems inevitable.

Sam Kennedy, president of Fenway Sports Group, has been tasked with attracting a naming-rights deal for the new Anfield. He will be aiming, no doubt, to emulate the lucrative deal struck this week between Etihad Airways and Manchester City.

Some Liverpool fans will launch into furious diatribes about hawking one's heritage to the highest bidder, and tainting the purity of football with commercialism.

But wasn't it ever thus? Scratch the surface, and many traditional stadium names also honoured wealth and commerce. Goodison Park, for example, was named after Goodison Road, which was named after George Goodison, a civil engineer, who grew rich building Liverpool's sewers. Does that make Everton fans a bunch of corporate sell-outs?

The etymology of Old Trafford dates back to the marauding de Trafford family, while Molineux was named in honour of the wealthy merchant who owned the land.

So should we accuse Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers of suckling at Mammon's teat? And Arsenal? Never mind the stadium, the whole club was named after the local gun factory in Woolwich.

Fans' arguments concerning lost heritage or a sudden coy objection to capitalism are a smokescreen for something more primeval.

They do not want the stadiums to change because it houses their memories.

It reminds them of their youth, just as a crumbling cricket ground reminds me of going to school. We are not objecting to shiny new buildings or jarring names, but our own mortality.

Probably best to avoid undertaker firms for the Anfield name deal.

Are you offended by Sebastian Vettel’s index finger?

The Formula One ace’s digit, which he points skywards every time he wins a race, is apparently “irritating” fans, to the extent that he was forced to defend it this week at Silverstone, where tomorrow’s British Grand Prix takes place. “It is not meant to offend,” he said.

Frankly, I admire his restraint. I would have been tempted to answer this kind of pointless nitpicking with the neighbouring finger.

Let’s be realistic.

Celebrations from the cockpit of an F1 car will always be limited by space.

One can hardly turn somersaults or do a Three Amigos-style slap’n’thrust combo.

The choice is either a cramped little wave, which seems rather regal, patting oneself on the head, which is more Benny than Damon Hill, or locking the arm at an angle of 45 degrees, which would get him arrested at Hockenheim.

Yes, he could raise a different digit, but which one? Hoisting his pinkie finger would give him the air of a dowager duchess at high tea, the ring finger is notoriously hard to isolate, and the middle finger would test badly with a family audience. Perhaps the best solution would be to soften the image by dressing his finger with props.

A small finger puppet – perhaps of a cute mouse, or similar, in the national dress of the host nation – could easily be carried in his racing suit and popped on after passing the chequered flag.

Or a spinning basketball, Harlem Globetrotters style. Yes, it would be technically tricky, but what a way to draw the American audience away from Nascar.

Either way, after such a decent young man has been criticised in such a pathetic way, I’ll be supporting him, rather than Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who plead for patriotic British support but live in foreign tax havens.

Now that really is showing fans the finger.