Ken Sproat went abroad for his holiday, but all he found was a thousand lousy replica shirts and the noise of inane Premiership chatter rining in his ears

Suitcase packed, passport and money checked a dozen times, now it’s time to think of the other hol­iday calculation – who to avoid. Some choices are straightforward – there’s the bloke who looks like Hitler, or the man who reads computer magazines, his swimming trunks almost in rubbing proximity with his thick grey socks. Plus work col­leagues and anyone who might be Rodney Marsh or Eric Hall.

For the perfect, relaxing, irritant-free holiday, how­ever, you must also avoid those people who choose to wear replica football shirts. There is a simple reason for this. They are bores, wretchedly insecure without the straitjacket of their “back home” posture. Away from a football match, the shirt is worn main­ly to at­tract others of the same species, with the side-effect of flashing warning colours, like peacocks or wasps. Also like wasps, replica wearers can drone on and on, be­come tetchy, fractious, irksome and malevolent, look­ing to rub antennae with people from the same nest or to sting rivals. Oh, for a swim­ming pool size swatter.

So who wears replicas? Mainly the match-going fan or the aligned non-attendee. Both are re­mote-pres­sing, back page-skimming, mouse-clicking in­for­ma­tion res­ervoirs. These mix with the other sort of fan – the dis­cerning neutral. Sadly, sitting in his arm­chair makes the discerning neutral the most important fan in the world, when he should be the least. And he knows as much as the others in the global info-village of the Premiership.

What they say, once footballing pher­o­mones have been swapped, is nothing more than: “I support a team in red. Come and talk to me and I’ll tell you how good we are, how we wellied your lot. My initial bragging will soften and I’ll tell you everything you know any­way. Let us get matey and reinforce each oth­er’s beliefs. Wenger and/or Fer­guson, what whingeing sods, goal-line cameras, let’s have ’em, cost us three goals last seas­on, referees eh? Useless, make ’em pro­fessional, that’s what I say... Oh, they are now. Won’t make any difference though.”

That’s it, really. Dispiritingly predictable chunter. Change the team but there is still nothing they can tell you that you are not already aware of: dead conversations regurgitated daily for two weeks on end. Fans of non-Premiership teams might have some­thing new or interesting to say on the rare occ­asions they appear poolside, but who in the world at large cares what happens at Spotland or Dean Court? A pat­ronising acknowledgement, then the talk returns to Beck­ham’s hair or Camp­bell’s bank account. Al­though, of  course, the outsider  can join in if they want, since they too will know all about “the one conversation”.

It is a fact of 21st century consumerism that the top teams are more popular with children than the also-rans and cannon fodder. But how is it that the higher a club is up the League, the fatter the kids are who sup­port them? Cham­pionship and chips, a good guzzle and a good away win. The impact of McDonald’s family enclosures can be measured not in num­bers of mums, dads and kids pointing in unison and singing “You’re so shit it’s unbelievable”, but on the Richter scale.

The kids too are bedecked in football shirts, though you wonder how much choice they have in the matter. They are less dependent on football talk than adults when it comes to mingling with other hol­iday­makers: the Cup final can be quickly forgotten in the excitement of a water pistol shoot-out. The more re­s­erved adult, still wrapped in the stranger-ignoring habits of the rush-hour tube or workplace lift, may need a few drinks to loosen inhibitions. The football shirt helps to bypass this awkwardness and soothe social un­ease.

A continuation of current trends will eventually mean a nation of  porky Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool fans. They will be all that exist. Even so, they will still wear the tops and talk the hackneyed talk. Cru­cially, even in this future world, the replica ritual will be pivotal and “the one conversation” will resonate in estuary English around the Med.

All things considered though, there are worse people than replica wearers to meet on holiday – me, for instance, eavesdropping.

From WSC 175 September 2001. What was happening this month

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