Monday, November 28, 2005

Best leaves another legacy

From today’s Times:

Three cheers for applause
By Matthew Syed

THE ONE-MINUTE SILENCE HAS BEEN done to death. Most of the time the objects of these desperate affairs — 9/11, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, 7/7 — have nothing whatsoever to do with football. But still the authorities insist upon ordering the fans to keep schtum in an ultimately futile attempt to demonstrate the sport’s respectability.

And each time the gesture is thrown back at them by a bunch of Neanderthals who rend the air with their pitiful oratory while the rest of us struggle in vain to focus upon the supposed object of bereavement. Whatever the noble intent, these occasions have become toe-curling affairs that most of us approach with dread rather than solemnity.

Thank heavens, then, for the spontaneous ovations at football grounds across the country during the one-minute “silences” in memory of George Best. The stamping, chanting, cheering and clapping drowned out the jeerers in a way that would have brought a smile to a departed genius who knew a thing or two about outsmarting thugs.

But football should bury the one-minute silence for cultural as well as pragmatic reasons. Football stadiums are not libraries or churches. Quite the reverse. Football’s is a culture that not merely tolerates but celebrates noise. Noise as chanting, noise as booing, noise as applauding, noise as cheering. Noise as satire. Noise as censure.

We go to watch football, in part, because it provides an opportunity to ditch the mask of Anglo-Saxon reserve amid an orgy of noise-making. In every football ground in the country, the quality of the spectacle is directly proportionate to the quantity of noise. Noise communicates everything you need to now about football; it is as much a part of the liturgy of the beautiful game as the offside rule.

I’ve been present at several one minute silences at Anfield. They have all been impeccably observed, and they really are quite eerie affairs – 45,000 people all stood in utter quiet. You get that sense of the oxymoronic "deafening silence."

However, as an exercise in focusing on the ‘object of bereavement’, they are hopeless because you spend the whole time tensely hoping some idiot isn’t going to ruin it by yelling.

The 'one minute applauses' around the grounds for George Best at the weekend were moving and much more appropriate for someone who was above all a great entertainer. And if it catches on, it will be yet another way that he has changed the British game for the better.

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