I’m aware, of course, that This Is Spinal Tap is one of those movies so over-quoted that you really shouldn’t use it as a source any more. It’s like Withnail and I or The Big Lebowski in that regard. But I’m going to anyway, and maybe next week you’ll get something a bit more original from me.
One of the many, many wonderful scenes in that film takes place at Elvis’ grave in Graceland. The band’s silent contemplation is broken by Nigel Tufnel’s observation that it “puts everything in perspective”. “Yeah,” responds his acerbic bandmate David St. Hubbins, “too much fucking perspective”.
What’s the right amount of perspective, and do we ever have it? I suspect not; I spent the weekend wallowing in the aftermath of this gutless surrender of three points, but it’s immensely preferable to the only way “perspective” is ever said to be gained; ie, a death, tragedy or some other “real life” incident. “Perspective” tends to mean an unfortunate double-whammy of something unpleasant happening in an ultimately trivial realm, such as football, and something far worse happening away from the pitch.
Well this is my appeal for perspective without the unpleasant trigger of tragedy. It’s targeted at my fellow fans and it’s targeted at myself. I’m normally quite good at dealing with defeats, but a solo train back to London can be a lonely place after a game that felt like the harbinger of relegation, and I struggled to get over this one. Chris Wood’s saved header at 1-1 and the profound injustice of the free-kick which lead to their equaliser...
...see. I’m doing it right now. It’s not, I hope , the most significant thing that’s happened to me this month and yet I’ve lingered on it more than any other event. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of fans, as well. We all need some perspective.
Failing to see the bigger picture is something of an occupational hazard for the standard football fan. I used to live with a Spurs fan and an Arsenal fan. Yeah. For some reason, the North London derby tended to fall around my birthday every single year, so the prospect of having an entirely undisturbed birthday weekend was pretty minimal. The 90 minute football game becomes all-consuming, takes over the entire weekend. With unfortunate effects for anyone who happened to be celebrating another year of life around that time.
City fans have recently distinguished themselves in this category with an impressive lack of perspective in relation to the legal process. We’re trying to build a new stadium. We own the land, we’ve agreed to sell the old stadium, we’re doing everything right. But some residents near the prospective site aren’t convinced they want a football club on their doorstep and are challenging, by Judicial Review, the legality of the decision to allow us to build.
Now frankly I think it’s a shame things have been allowed to get this far. The club have worked hard to accommodate local residents, giving concessions on green space, on landscaping and on design. The residents are using “village green” legislation which I suspect was designed for another purpose to try and stop the club. There doesn’t seem to be an effective compromise to reach – the club have made every possible effort but when the disagreement is as binary as one side wanting a stadium and the other not, it’s tough to reach an agreed position.
So I don’t think we’ve done a great deal wrong. But you know what? It’s possible for a group of people to challenge a large piece of public works which will affect their lives. And following due legal process takes a long time – I think there should be ways to shorten the process, and I think it’s frustrating, but I’m glad there’s recourse to it. Sure, there are probably more people who want the stadium than don’t (I’m one of them) but bowing to the tyranny of the majority every time such an issue emerges isn’t democracy. Democracy is the rule of law; democracy is checks and balances on what is, after all, a question of our rich chairman wanting to build something across someone else’s view.
But of course, with each successful legal step the residents take – not to getting the stadium stopped but to getting the decision legally examined – perspective vanished from our fans as a body politic. “The law is an ass”, we hear, and my favourite: “this could only happen in this country”. Well if that’s true it’s a fantastic advert for England. Dictatorships get things done overnight – the truism that Mussolini “made the trains run on time” may not be completely accurate but it’s a useful shorthand nonetheless. In a democracy we check that we’re not trampling on the little guy. We’re good at remembering that when City are the little guys, raging quite rightly at the latest rule change to benefit sides in the top flight. We’re not great when our near-£1bn rated chairman is the big guy and the little people are challenging us.
In a democracy, too, people who share different ideas can exchange them freely. Ideas like who’s better out of Tottenham and Arsenal. Smarting from Saturday’s result, I joined my friends having an evening’s drink, two generals meeting under a flag of parlay the night before the battle. I’m not suggesting football shouldn’t matter, shouldn’t hurt when you lose, shouldn’t pump you full of adrenalin when you win. I’m sure they didn’t spend Sunday night together but I’m glad that they were able to see each other on Saturday. I think it did me good to see some sane support.
I want the stadium and I think we’ll get it. But proper assessment and legal challenge are no bad thing. I hope that, if somehow given the choice, I’d choose enfranchisement and a proper legal system over having neither of those things but a top-flight side. I’d hope we all would. It just takes that little bit of perspective.