Those of us who daily pray for a speedy exit of the England team from the odious Euro 2004 may take some black comfort in the knowledge that supporters who follow the games on television are more at risk of injury than the players themselves.
Hold on, I hear you say, isn’t that a bit much? Do not these legions of overweight and underbrained patriots have the human right to enjoy the footie, to drape themselves in the flag of St George, to fill their several bellies with lager and southern-fried chicken, and to stare at the box through piggy little eyes, their persons unharmed? To which I say, gosh, you’re right, I don’t know what came over me, let the carnage begin.
And carnage there will be, comrades, make no mistake. How can I be so sure? Marketing, that’s how. Or, more precisely, the marketing enterprise of two learned paramedical institutions. For it is a tribute to the profession that readers of this magazine apply with such diligence and skill that today everyone sees its importance and adopts its methods.
That is why not just the manufacturers of fizzy drinks and breakfast cereals have hitched themselves to Euro 2004 in the hope that a little of its rÃ©clame will rub off and stick in the shape of enhanced profits. But so too have the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. Both these august bodies have issued warnings of the dangers of following football on TV, and both no doubt seek a little harmless publicity as a result.
The physios have prepared a survival guide for footie fans, pointing out that “those watching the pitch are as much at risk as those playing on it”, and the language experts warn that excessive shouting, singing and screaming can lead to serious long-term damage. This they call “voice abuse”.
To understand the risk of bodily injury one has to go back to the discovery made by Luigi Galvani. Though his name suggests he plays centre-back for Chelsea, this is not the case since he predeceased the transfer market by some 200 years. An Italian biologist, he accidentally made the remarkable discovery that electricity passed through the severed legs of a frog (no, you shaven-headed, bull-necked England fans, not a Frenchman, a frog) causes those limbs to twitch. Now fast-forward to the 21st century and you will see that the scoring of a goal has a galvanic effect on the pondlife watching the games: the legs straighten involuntarily, propelling the armchair fan into an upright position. This, say the physiotherapists, may cause lower back pain, muscle sprains and strain.
The author of the survival guide is chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo (That a woman who calls herself Sammy sets my teeth on edge is a problem entirely of my own, and I shall have to deal with it in my own way.) She says: “What we need to do is set ourselves up correctly.”
Funny, isn’t it, how members of the medical and allied professions adopt this idiosyncratic use of the first person plural pronoun? Anyway, we set ourselves up by “getting our sofa or comfy chair sorted out so that we are relatively well supported – be it with placing a towel or pillow in the small of our back.”
Are we OK so far? Good. Now, “in a situation where we can reasonably anticipate a goal we should prepare our bodies by getting up off the sofa carefully so that we are already standing and then we can jump up and down, instead of springing off the sofa.”
Other tips include: “When protesting about a bad tackle, resist the urge to flail the arms about. It is safer to take a deep breath, stand up and stamp your foot.”
You may also care to shout out “bother!” – though not too loudly (see below).
Beware the penalty shoot-out, says Sammy. It is one of the riskiest situations a football fan faces. “As each player walks to the spot, remind yourself that your suspense will turn either to jubilation or frustration, so be prepared for all eventualities.”
All eventualities? What, we wonder might they include? Spilling our extra-strong export lager over our third belly down? Bursting a blood vessel? Wetting ourselves? What if we have occasion reasonably to anticipate the eventuality of choking to death on our own vomit? How ought we to prepare our bodies? Or should we leave the preparation to the mortician?
As for voice abuse, language therapist Jayne Comins warns against yelling in anger. “Happy yelling is less likely to cause voice damage,” she says. After the World Cup in 2002, language therapists were overwhelmed by patients with hoarse voices or no voices at all. Fans, she adds, need to avoid long periods of overuse of the vocal chords. They should drink water or juice, and cut down on smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
Which, let’s face it, is about as realistic as advising the Beckhams to cut down on self- publicity, vulgar posturing, and brain-dead public utterances.
So, my friends, when England lose again, the tabloid hysterics fall silent, the flags are furled, and the last salt tear has rolled down the last grease-painted cheek, listen out for that happy yelling. It will be me.