Matt Nation issues a heartfelt plea to footballers to get on with what they do best and stop, well, messing about

“We lost because we done too much fanny dangle,” Dave Bassett once fumed a couple of years back after Sheffield United had gone down without a fight to Coventry. He may well have been right, but this was probably scant use to his team when they looked to analyze the defeat, since they, along with most people on the planet, don’t even have an inkling of what fanny dangle is.

The anger in Dave Bassett’s voice was testimony to the fact that, whatever it is, fanny dangle must be negative. Even Harry, one of the more locquacious, if not eloquent, of his guild could not express just how, and to what extent, fanny dangle is detrimental to British football as he knows it. But I think I know what he meant. Because I think I saw David Lee doing it in a Chelsea game.
As he ambled over to take a corner near to where we were sitting, David seemed as normal as ever; he still bore the gait of John Wayne the morning after a particularly mischievous late-night takeaway, the ponderous expression of a Beatrix Potter character and the pudding-basin haircut of a man who had recently lost a bet. Everything was fine and dandy. It was as he shaped up to take the corner that the real bullshit began.
All of a sudden, he embarked on a corporeal ritual of elaborate twists and turns, accompanied by facial distortions which almost began to confirm our suspicions about the takeaway. He scuffed his right foot repeatedly on the ground, like a kid pretending to be a scramble bike. He extended his arms, palms first, in front of his face, as though trying to stop an oncoming juggernaut. He sucked his bottom lip in a manner usually only associated with middle-aged academics with beards. He shouted something in the direction of his team-mates in what sounded like Chaucerian English. He looked like a bloody idiot. He then put the corner straight into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Ridiculous, preposterous, embarrassing and a host of other adjectives could be used to describe this exhibition, but if it had to be nominalized, it could only really be called “fanny dangle”. And, like Dave Bassett before me, I was furious. David Lee’s wanton mucking about had wasted a perfectly good corner. I thought about the centre forward of my Sunday League team, who justified an act of retaliation with the words, “If he’d have done that to me in the street, I would have punched him there, and all,” and, for a split-second, I wanted to have it out with David Lee there and then. I settled instead for searching for the reasons for his somewhat risible impersonation of Marcel Marceau.
For a while, I really did consider the takeaway. However, during the same game, I saw Beardsley and Ferdinand also indulging in a bit of fanny dangle (the former was standing on the halfway line with his hands on his temples, the image of a girl twenty years his junior at a pop concert; the latter was waving demonstratively at the West Stand, just as parents with young children wave at passing boats and believe they are teaching their offspring something useful). And since we all know that neither of these two model professionals would ever dream of having a late-night takeaway on the eve of a game, the direct link between fanny dangle and bad food is a bit of a non-starter.
The second theory involved the current rapprochement between football and rugby union. The signs are already in evidence: the well-documented chanting in football stadia of the first two lines of the best-known rugby mantra; the signing-on fees; the fact that full backs kick the ball into touch whenever they can; and the lack of scoring opportunities taken by England forwards.
But I remember a rugby quirk from my schooldays that hasn’t quite gained a foothold in football, but bears more than a passing resemblance to fanny dangle as I understand it. Before chucking the ball in at line-outs, hookers always used to go through a little ritual of their own. It usually entailed holding up three or four fingers and then spouting some garbled nonsense, along the lines of ‘35 lemon’, ‘The postman is on his way’ (and once, memorably, ‘5-7-0-5, but there’s no reply’). I believe this was a code to inform the forwards of the intended destination of the ball, but it was also absurd, infuriating and very possibly the source that spawned the fanny dangle that David Lee was displaying.
The third theory is, sadly, the most plausible.It’s just plain attention-seeking. The advent of loads of televised football has brought with it the disturbing trend of unspectacular players waking up to the fact that they can now get noticed not only by ten thousand people in a football ground, but ten million people in their living rooms. And it’s gone to their heads. But they should also wake up to the fact that it doesn’t work like that.
It’s a team game and there are roles to be played. There are superstars and there are stalwarts. There are merchandising deals and there are testimonials. There are footballers who stand out and there are footballers who don’t, and those who do so are allowed to do so precisely because there are some who don’t.
And no amount of peripheral theatricals are going to change that. So, David Lee et al, you either do it properly – spontaneously combust, take a match official hostage, announce that you are Shergar, Lord Lucan or the haul from the Brinks Matt gold bullion robbery – or you leave it be. Fanny dangle is neither fish nor fowl, it gets on people’s nerves and it looks stupid. So forget about it, for God’s sake.

From WSC 111 May 1996. What was happening this month

Related articles

The Crazy Gang
The true inside 
story of football’s 
greatest miracle by Dave Bassett 
and Wally Downes Bantam Press, £18.99Reviewed by Shane SimpsonFrom WSC&...
Tales From The 
Secret Footballer
by The Secret FootballerGuardian Faber, £12.99Reviewed by John EarlsFrom WSC 328 June 2014 Buy this book   At the end of 2012's entertaining...

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday