Snobbery is fundamental to English society. It pervades everything we do. It affects the homes we buy, the way we speak, the clothes we wear, and the jobs we do. So naturally sport is not immune.
My somewhat below average secondary school, when it sought to improve itself, pretended to be middle class. It introduced private school uniforms. It created a Private school ‘house system’ for classes. And it closed the football team and started to play rugby. Exam results didn’t improve, but its reputation shot up.
Of course I should explain that Rugby in Essex is a middle class game. I don’t know why that is when in the South West it is beautifully egalitarian, and in Wales decidedly working class. But what maters more is that a true snob doesn’t pick rugby anyway. He picks cricket every time.
Cricket is rural, middle class, calm, and peaceful. Far from support high wages for top players, this sport once reserved highest regard for ‘gentlemen cricketers’ – men wealthy enough to play for free and not soil the sound of leather on willow with the rustle of folding notes.
In the minds of most Englishmen Cricket has never changed. It represents pleasant village greens, warm bear from wooden club houses, handshakes and gentlemanly conduct. It is the height of honesty and fair play, and remains the picture perfect England that never truly existed.
In that same mind’s eye, those who watch it are well dressed accountants, lawyers, and captains of industry. They know their fine cigars and display good manners at all times. In short, cricket fans are not the rowdy, aggressive, brawling mass of factory scum that makes football a violent and brutal affair both on and off the pitch.
And so it was that more than a decade ago that cricketing legend Geoffrey Boycott reported on radio that ‘football hooligans’ were causing trouble in the stands. Football was violent, cricket was not, and his light hearted tone emphasised the honesty behind his wisdom.
But what now that violence is worse at Lords than Wembley?
English football is still aggressive and loud, and that’s part of why I love it. But so to is English cricket. The Barmy Army has better elocution, but it is just as loud and aggressive as any football counterpart and viciously lambastes those who let it down. And that’s part of why I love it too.
At the same time football is no longer violent. Indeed as a steward for two years not so long ago, I ejected not one fan from Craven Cottage, Stamford Bridge, or Wembley Stadium. Stewarding Lords and the Oval however, was a whole different matter.
Cricket has real violence. While never ejecting a football fan, I helped expel cricket fans by the dozen. Some were in groups. Many were individuals. And heaven help any steward posted near a pretty girl with bare legs. The exploits I saw would lead to arrest, charge, and conviction for sexual assault if they happened in the high street. Yet these men were never even banned from the ground.
Part of cricket’s problem is drink.
Football fans spend two hours at the game, and drink at most a pint or two bought before kick off, and a pint or two bought at half time. Cricket fans can spend all day drinking, buying pint after pint throughout proceedings with little pressure to stop. We rarely had trouble at the Oval at noon, but were over worked five hours later.
And here in lies a problem. English mind are comfortable with the fact that alcohol turn a law abiding family loving builder into a raging, violent and sexually aggressive bastard. But I’m not sure I want to accept it does the same to accountants and lawyers. And society certainly doesn’t.
So can I ignore my own knowledge, for the sake of snobbery, and pretend that the violent outbursts come from working class cricket fans instead of the bankers to blame?
The answer is of course no. England is not yet ready to accept that middle class fans really care about football, or that working class fans really get cricket. Well spoken football fans are labelled ‘corporate’ while working class cricket followers are often just ignored so as to pretend they don’t exist.
So how do we explain unseemly behaviour from the Barmy Army when England are poor? And how do I explain the violence in the stands that stewards struggle to cope with?
Simple, we pretend they are football hooligans and like Richard Remedios on the Guardian yesterday, demand they ‘Go back to football and stay there please.’