John Major called for a classless society, but it was Anthony Charles Lynton Blair who delivered it. His magisterial proclamation that “we are all middle class now” swept away centuries of prejudice, enmity, and petty distinctions and left us all, white collar, blue collar, polycottoned and tweeded, huddled together beneath the warmth of that great and benign grin.
But wait! Who is this unshaven, shaven-headed, blazing-eyed, hatchet-faced figure screaming a barrage of dissent? Why, it’s Roy Keane, gentleman and man of means, here to tell us that even in this Blair-blessed Utopia, some are more middle class than others.
Mr Keane, I need hardly remind you, is captain of Manchester United, the richest, most-lauded and blessed of all football clubs. For his leadership, his brilliance, his example, and his many other qualities known to his wide circle of admirers, he is in receipt of &£52,000 a week, or approximately &£5 for every minute in which he draws breath, sleeps, eats, defecates, and plays football.
When people such as he speak, it behoves us to listen. And he has spoken. Although Manchester United won their recent Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev by a margin of one goal to nil, some spectators present at Old Trafford booed the home team for passing the ball to their opponents, in defiance of the purpose of the game. Mr Keane was incensed, and in that condition he is something to behold. His veins become as pulsing wells of molten lava, his temples throb at a measured six on the Richter Scale, his burning eyes recede beneath a lowering brow. At times such as these, the poet in his soul goes into hiding.
Upon entering his ears, the booing of the crowd wrought a kind of chemical reaction. The result was a verbal eruption. “Some people come here and I don’t think they can spell football, let alone understand it. They have a few drinks and probably their prawn sandwiches and don’t realise what is going on out on the pitch.”
It is not surprising that, in measuring the inadequacy of his critics, he chooses that most civilised of standards, literacy. For it is perhaps not widely known that when Mr Keane has cleansed the mud from his limbs in the scented waters of Old Trafford’s communal baths and returned to the tranquillity of his neo-Tudor mansion, there is nothing he enjoys more than to strike an attitude before the blazing fire of his ample drawing room, tap a silver snuff box with a perfectly manicured nail, and utter Homeric epigrams to the polite ripples of delighted applause from his adoring family.
The target of his hostility is plain: drinks and prawn sandwiches point unmistakably to the hated middle-class occupants of the corporate hospitality boxes. Drink alone would be too imprecise an allegation, since the middle-class occupants of the terraces are not averse to the odd-dozen or so lagers imbibed as a normal pre-match precaution against unwonted restraint. But prawn sandwiches! A dead giveaway. Real football fans – the kind who know it is spelt “foopbaw” – have no truck with prawn sandwiches. They eat meat pies.
Mr Keane has dared to speak the unspeakable: that there are certain types of middle-class people who are not welcome at matches. They don’t understand its rituals or depths; they are deaf to the sounds of its ancestral voices crying plaintively over the misty fields of dreams to the strains of a timeless conga, “The referee’s a wanker”. What do they know of football who only prawn sandwiches know?
When these impostors, these parvenus, see Roy Keane’s veins standing out on his head like lugworms as he screams obscenities from two inches into the face of a petrified referee, they see rank bad manners and appalling sportsmanship, when, in fact, what they were seeing was, in truth, passion. Without passion, football is nothing. Passion is the joyous submersion of one’s individuality in the mob. Passion is the heady exhilaration of chanting ritualised abuse at opponents and those of races, religions and sexualities different from your own. Passion is measured in a pints, pies and punch-ups; passion, in short, is atavistic tribal warfare.
The johnny-come-lately middles classes who peer at the play through a wine glass are too enfeebled by custom and diet to know passion. Rather than bellow at David Beckham in hate-filled rage, “Your wife’s a whore”, the most they might be expected to do is hold up a card reading, “We have cause to suspect that your good lady may be a courtesan.”
That football is sustained more by corporate money than gate receipts is neither here nor there. The only currency that counts it is the “hard-earned” money of the true fan. Passion is too precious to put a price to, though &£52,000 a week seems a fair stab.
Let us stay our hand no more, it is time to storm the corporate hospitality boxes, turf out the occupants and reclaim the beautiful game, whose glorious pages are written in blood and vomit.