There will no doubt have been a pursed lip or two at the news that “one of the world’s most successful directors of television commercials” was found guilty of football hooliganism and banned from attending matches for five years. Many a prim soul will have shuddered and muttered that the country had indeed gone to the dogs. But this was not an occasion for the frown of censure or the cold eye of disapproval; rather it was a time for reflecting calmly on the new social order and on modern manners.
Eden Diebel, 44, recently named as one of the top ten directors of commercials in the world, and a West Ham United supporter, was arrested after he was filmed throwing coins at Millwall fans during a match last year. His credits include directing the Honey Monster campaign for Sugar Puffs, though he did not ask for any other offences to be taken into consideration.
He threw the coins, he explained, because Millwall fans were shouting abuse at the West Ham fans. His coins, he added, did not hit anybody and the incident was trivial. “My wife who watched the video footage actually said she had seen worse things happen in Marks & Spencer.”
I believe him. The coins thrown at football matches are not missiles aimed to hurt the body; they are symbols of contempt aimed to wound the sensibilities, which in the case of Millwall supporters are known to be especially delicate. This is indeed akin to the coin-throwing so often seen in Marks & Spencer when the checkouts are deserted and the few staff who have survived downsizing are yawning somewhere behind men’s trousers.
But to dwell on the coins is to miss the point, which is that the middle class has changed from the days when its chief preoccupation was growing wisteria in suburbia and wearing its trousers pressed. Today’s middle class is more relaxed. It has discarded the fustian of the bourgeoisie and donned the baseball cap of maternity.
True, it may still commute to City offices or to Soho studios; it may still manage hedge funds and dramatise the Sugar Puff; but come the weekend the quotidian cares are cast aside and the middle classes are free, with a yelp and whoop, to be themselves, to let it all hang out. In short, to be hooligans.
The weekend hooligan is now as much an adornment of English life as once was the gap-toothed rustic. It is pleasing proof that class divisions, too long a cause of resentment, are breaking down. Quite rightly, the middle class rose up and claimed a share of the pleasures previously denied to them by barriers of rank and status. For too long the working class had enjoyed the joy of strong language, incontinent sex, and unrestrained violence. They had kept to themselves the secrets of perpetual adolescence and the rewards of unrestrained egotism. Nature had vouchsafed to them the illicit pleasure of an Eden pulsing with original sin, where everything – from dress and manners to relationships and speech – was casual.
That social injustice could not last. There came a time to unite and lose the chains, and the downtrodden middle class rose magnificently to the challenge. Whole swathes of working class-occupied territory, from Islington to Notting Hill to Limehouse and beyond – were overrun. Victory was sweet and nowhere better relished than on the sputum-soaked football terraces of this England.
And so, on that cold November day, Mr Diebel came to be found sowing the turf with coins. I should be surprised if there were not, standing alongside him, also disposing of their small change and grimacing hideously, sundry lawyers, accountants, teachers and privately educated female public relations consultants, all enjoying their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
His arraignment and subsequent conviction reminds us that, although we have come far in eradicating social injustice, there remain obstacles to overcome. His case shows that the rights of the weekend hooligan are not as yet inalienable. But what is England if not a land in which a man can shoot award-winning TV commercials by day and hurl coinage by night? Are we so blind to the need for an outpouring of emotion which only the venomous, hate-filled football arena can provide that we close our minds, harden our hearts and deny that simple expression of our common humanity?
And how, in this vibrant post-modern age, are TV commercials to be made if we persist in clinging to class divisions that should have long since been consigned to the cutting-room floor of history? What does he of vulgarity know who is not himself a vulgarian? I ask you, could FCUK have been devised by a lettered mind?