Is it possible to use the phrase ‘when I was a lad’ and not sound like a crotchety old man? As a kid it was a guaranteed toe-curler of a line, largely because it was followed by yet another anecdote about how things were better in the good old days: ‘… footballers were lucky if they got twenty pounds a week, and they were grateful if they got that’.
Worryingly, I’m using similar phrases with alarming regularity. All too often I find myself starting a sentence with ‘remember the season when …’, or, ‘you’ll never get another player like …’. Sometimes it can simply be a name that elicits a sentimental yearning for the comfort and warmth of a former time or place. Johnny Metgod. Neil Webb. Stuart Pearce. Jason Lee. Andrea Silenzi.
Ok, there was a hint of irony about the last two, but that’s the beauty of nostalgia, it’s entirely subjective. Someone, somewhere, might genuinely think that Silenzi was a good player; there might be a faded picture of him lending beauty to a trattoria’s wall, in Turin, say. It applies to most sports fans, mention the name of their favourite player from yesteryear and watch them go all gooey eyed and weak at the knees.
It’s big business too, this nostalgia malarkey. Take a look at Graham Budd Auctions, they sold a collection of John Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanacks from the first year of issue (1864) for £120,000. A single-sheet 1889 FA Cup Final programme recently went for £19,000 too. You could take a trip to the National Football Museum in Preston if you wanted to, the President of which (Sir Bobby Charlton) once described it as ‘the best museum in the world … apart from the Tate’.
Some people think it’s dangerous to be so pre-occupied with the past, though. Joe Kinnear certainly thought so after joining Notts Forest: ‘Ever since I’ve been at this club I’ve had the history rammed down my throat, I see they don’t have any pictures of the relegation teams’. Nice way to ingratiate yourself with the fans, Joe.
Not for the first time, I’m inclined to disagree with Kinnear. They say that every dog has its day. Well, every football fan has their day, too. In a footballing world dominated by WAGs, galacticos and oligarchs, nostalgia is part of what keeps us humble fans going. And there’s nothing wrong with that.