x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Blue bloods of Birmingham seeing Villans’ claret

Football fans have a reputation for claiming ownership of certain parts of their city, particularly if that city is shared with another club.

They have not exactly planted a flag but Aston Villa fans have claimed Birmingham library as their own. Glyn Kirk / AFP
They have not exactly planted a flag but Aston Villa fans have claimed Birmingham library as their own. Glyn Kirk / AFP

Football fans have a reputation for claiming ownership of certain parts of their city, particularly if that city is shared with another club.

In the dark days of the 1980s in England, when I began to follow Birmingham City, I listened agog as older and tougher fans briefed me over which areas were “Blues” territory and which pitiful few we had not yet bothered to “take” from Aston Villa.

If memory serves, our precious “territory” generally involved hostelries, nightclubs, pool halls and the occasional railway station plus a smattering of key roads, bus routes and shopping precincts.

Unsurprisingly, Birmingham’s central library was never mentioned. It was neutral territory, if you like. A place where Bluenoses and Villans might put aside their differences and chat in peace about the latest Philip Roth novel.

Or perhaps they were simply unaware that Birmingham even had a library. I wouldn’t like to judge.

Either way, you can imagine my surprise when a new territorial row erupted this week – with the library at its heart.

Trouble began when it was announced out of the blue – or should that be claret and blue – that every night until New Year’s Eve the new central library would be lit up in the colours of Aston Villa.

“The library is ours” boasted a headline on the official Aston Villa website. Inevitably, Birmingham City fans were outraged and a growing number are vowing to never set foot in the library again.

Or for the first time.

Frankly, I do not know whether to hang my head in shame at my beloved birth city tearing itself apart over something so petty or be quietly impressed that we have at least moved on to fighting over something more highbrow than a chip shop.

It will be fascinating to see what sort of precedent this sets for other clubs.

Villa’s audacious library grab may start a trend for other Premier League clubs laying claim to their nearby cultural jewels.

But which ones would they go for?

Manchester United fans like to call Old Trafford the “Theatre of Dreams”, so perhaps they should bathe every other theatre in the city in red.

Manchester City, meanwhile, is a stellar team with a famous club anthem. Would it really be so hard to colour the moon blue?

Liverpool is blessed with some world-class museums that could be lit up in red. Kopites do enjoy talking about the past quite a lot.

Everton, meanwhile, could colour the River Mersey blue. On cold winter nights it can be very bitter.

The Hull City chairman is not known for his love of local culture and heritage, but he is very keen on looking east so perhaps he’d like to light up every Chinese takeaway in tiger stripes.

And what about London, the most divided city of all?

For moneybags Chelsea, the city’s financial district could be turned blue. Aesthetic Arsenal, meanwhile, could go for the National Portrait Gallery.

And Tottenham Hotspur? Well, there is a circus coming to London in spring. Perhaps they could light up the Big Top.

As for West Ham, they needn’t bother with anything: they have already got Birmingham Central Library.

Oh sorry, my mistake, that is Villa isn’t it? I always get those two mixed up. It must be the shared colour scheme. Or the smug supporters puffed up on sepia-tinged victories from the olden days.



Children not welcome when adults play a kid’s game


There are two camps forming over the case of the young Tottenham Hotspur mascot who made fun out of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez at White Hart Lane.

The first camp – mainly supporters of any team apart from Liverpool – believes it is hilarious that Olivia Brown, 10, thumbed her nose at Suarez during the pre-match handshake routine.

Their main argument is that Suarez is a nasty so-and-so who deserves taking down a peg or two.

The second camp – mainly supporters of Liverpool and any Uruguayans who happen to be passing – say that young Olivia showed a shocking lack of respect.

No wonder society is falling apart, they say, when a youngster is actively encouraged to show such a lack of manners. Her father later told how he offered her £20 (Dh120) to pull the stunt.

Personally, I am setting up a third camp. In fact, I set it up years ago, but new members are always welcome.

My camp just wants to get rid of mascots from football matches, full stop.

Children are passion-killers on the football field as well as at home. They have turned the pre-match tunnel routine from pits of snarling tension (think Roy Keane-Patrick Viera) to a prissy photo opportunity.

Children offer immediate perspective.

They remind players that this is just a game and that there are more important things in life than scoring goals. Plus, their physical presence alone is enough to stop the merest hint of a brawl.

In other word, children make adults behave like adults. And that is the last thing we want from our footballers.

Get rid of the real youngsters, I say, and let us just make do with the 22 overgrown ones on the pitch. The results will be far more entertaining than a wee scamp thumbing her nose at a pantomime villain.


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