Any football match anywhere, be it the Premier League, the Isthmian League Division One North or Welling Wanderers Under 9s, will have a selection of grown men and women, and children, shouting instructions at players like the armchair tacticians we all are.
From demanding players retain possession against an opposing team a foot taller on average to pleading they shoot from their own half as soon as they get the ball, fans know exactly what the team needs and that victory would be a certainty if only the buggers could hear us out there.
It’s time to explore a few of these advocations to see what lies behind the mutterings of Football Managers on the touchline.
The most obvious, and the one that actually works from time to time. Thousands of fans shouting these two words can alert a player to an incoming enemy that he can then evade with the easy grace of a dove. Of course, it could just as easily cause the player to panic, stand on the ball, fall into a nearby linesman and get sent off to howls of laughter from the stands, but this whole piece can’t be about Eric Djemba-Djemba.
That strangely calm moment before the referee blows his whistle for kick off sometimes seems to be replicated during the match, with players standing about like Antony Gormley’s finest in a bewildered daze. A blistering verbal call to arms, ‘Movement!’ is a fan’s final attempt to remind their players that it isn’t actually June on a beach in St Lucia, it is in fact December, it’s very cold and if we all have to be at bloody Bootham Crescent then the least you bastards can do is run about a bit.
‘One of you!’
The ball is pinging about like a nutter in a moshpit, and despite its apparently random trajectory it always seems to land at the feet of the opposition. Your players, meanwhile, are pulling a selection of comedy poses that will be reprinted in newspapers and on websites the following day where the ball is directly above a player’s head, he’s looking over his left shoulder, the laces on his pink boots are undone, one shin pad’s out and everyone screaming ‘One of you!’ is only going to make things worse.
Sometimes a tackle is so magnificent, so exquisitely timed to take both ball and man but entirely within the rules, that a player just has to stop and admire the very idea of himself. And watch as the ball then trundles straight to an opponent, which is where ‘Second ball!’ comes in. Why do some players seem to think when they tackle someone, the ball is therefore theirs by right and should stick to the boot accordingly with no further effort? What is this, Tecmo World Cup ’90?
‘Squeeze!’ / ‘Go tight!’
You wouldn’t shout this in any other walk of life as far as I’m aware, though I have been married a long time so I’m not the man to ask. It appears to mean a fan wants his players to stick as close as possible to the opposition, in the irrational belief that in the football of 2014 that won’t immediately cause the referee to blow for a foul, because this hasn’t been any kind of contact sport for many, many years now. If you want to watch people grinding up against each other, that’s what the internet is for, right? Like I say, married.
‘Break his legs!’
Heard most recently among home fans at Brentford versus Stevenage, when one team was already promoted, the other already relegated and precisely sod all was at stake. That it was uttered by an ordinarily mild-mannered office worker in his late thirties should surprise no-one. The cheerful barbarity of football fans is accompanied by the entertainingly ironic fury when the opposition does indeed succeed in snapping a tibia or two, and the slightly more opaque ‘Get into ‘em!’ is certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hurt them, please, immediately, for our entertainment.
And the more unlikely shouts
Naturally there are other bizarre utterances at grounds around the country every weekend. Particular fans will alight on a phrase that they deploy every match, such that it becomes as much a part of the ritual as the pre-match cheeseburger or the lucky pants.
My own lot in life, unfortunately, is to shout ‘Left back!’ at every top-flight game I go to, due to the intolerable positioning sense of the (England international) full-back who spends most of his time somewhere near the right-hand corner flag up the other end. When shouting this, I sometimes think I see him peer up in confusion, as though reaching for a disappearing memory rather than the right-winger he should be at least be within half a pitch length of.
Sceptical heads turn sceptically whenever a friend of mine shouts ‘Rim them!’ inexplicably, as though performing that unpleasant act would have any other effect than the game being stopped and the local constabulary becoming involved. Apparently it’s a demand to score a fourth when already three up, which is a definition of rimming I’ll be adding to the Urban Dictionary shortly.
Another special moment during a particularly difficult match was a lonely voice crying, admittedly to the opposition rather than his own team, ‘Can we have our ball back?’ Of course, no matter what we cry it seems footballers are more inclined to listen to their managers than us, unless it’s Pardew obviously. But we must cry on, for the sake of own sanity. Without the release of a grave imploration to ‘Shooooooooot!’ every once in a while, we might all be left wondering why we’re there at all, and if 22 men kicking a little ball around a field is, after all, a bizarre waste of time.
And that’s just silly.