Prior to October’s round of European Championship qualifiers, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the only drone associated with
Association Football was the unfortunate sound of Phil Neville’s lower-than-a-Borrower’s-front-door-key punditry.
One has been mistaken.
On Tuesday 14th October, Serbia clashed with Albania in Belgrade. The match had to be abandoned after a drone – initially suspected to have been
remote controlled by the brother of the Albanian president, who was present at the game – was flown over the field of play. The drone carried troublesome cargo: a flag which suggested Serbia was,
in fact, part of Greater Albania. Which of course got the goats of pretty much everyone present in the Belgrade crowd (away fans were banned), and the Albanian president’s brother was about the
only Albanian present upon whom the finger of blame could prod.
The drone circled merrily, drunkenly, winding-up supporters and players alike, before finally crash-landing – like some poorly-designed Beagle
Mars-Explorer - onto the pitch. One helpful Serbia player deigned to remove said offending item and in doing so, enflamed the Albanians. Fights
ensued. The player who had chosen to remove the drone – and flag – was smashed over the head with a chair. It was like something out of
WWE, or else a bar-room brawl seen through the batwings of some Wild West saloon bar.
Most commentators condemned the spectacle. I for one fahking loved it. We should see much more of this type of thing in the sport I love.
Air-borne objects in football are, however, not a new trend. Manchester United fans – dontchaknow - do it practically
every week. Well, it’s not like they’re troubling the stamping pages of their passports with any Easyjet flights to European destinations in order to compete in proper
competition football this season is it? Eh? Eh? Still, you’ll see ‘em flying stuttering little cough-planes – yeah that’s right, cough-planes I call ‘em - with little post-it kinda
messages tailing off. All sortsa messages too, from the angry David Moyes banner (Wrong One – Moyes Out) to the pining Ronaldo banner (Come Home Ronaldo) which
they flew over Villareal’s El Madrigal stadium a couple of months back.
And so, in my guise as HDUK’s chief soccer correspondent, I thought I would take to the skies and name five other mile-high football phoenomena I’d like to see this season
and which – Blatter knows – would improve the game no end.
5. Coming straight in at number five is this new entry… Jack Bauer. Not only is Jack Bauer a fully-qualified helicopter pilot (and all round badass), but the edgy American hero
(and friend of the president) also battled drones in the last series of the documentary 24, which was set on these very shores in good old (HD) UK. And though, like Alex
Ferguson’s dismissal of Rafael Benitez, I took issue with some of the facts of the latest instalment (for instance, in one scene Jack had to get to Southampton from London and
it took him less than five minutes, as though Soton were merely an auxillary port of London) the overall all-action tone of the show was excellent. And what’s more, they had a
drone strike at Wembley Stadium. And the president was there. And Jack Bauer. And it blew a massive hole in the pitch like a UFO had crash-landed.
If half-time entertainment was always like this, some fatboys in the crowd might think twice about galumphing down to the concessions stands at H-T and
grabbing a pie-and-crisps combo deal.
4. A non-mover at number four… INFECTIOUS DISEASE: This might seem a little unfeeling, especially given the current Ebola crisis. However I’m sure you’ll agree that a little air-borne infectious
disease could improve football at every level – from the heights of the Premier League to the depths of non-league – no end. These days no fahker sings at the football, and I can’t remember the last
time I heard that symphony: You’re gonna get your fahkin’ heads kicked in (followed by staccato clapping).
It’s a sorry state of affairs, no diggity.
But if the threat of catching something incurable simply by being there - in your chewing-gum encrusted seat - was present then we would see people acting
different. When supporting your team becomes a matter of life and death and the stakes are raised, then we’ll really discover what separates the men from the
boys (and perhaps zombies: I’m not discounting the fact that said infectious disease could be something horrific – and no doubt brought over from somewhere
foreign – which might make you come over all undead, like an Arsenal fan).
Imagine if we all had to wear, like, them Hazmat suits what the scientists wear at the end of E.T. on the terraces. Imagine what scope for a ruck that would give us. CCTV cameras
couldn’t tell one fight-friendly fucker from another.
And imagine: if half a teams’ fans were popping their clogs every which way but loose, they couldn’t afford to issue banning orders. So BANG! we’d be right back in the heady days of the
late ‘70s early ‘80s and maaaaan would it look good.
3. Dropping two places this week. Last week’s number one is this week’s number three… EAGLES. Eagles have a long and happy history with football. In Portugal, Benfica are known as
‘The Eagles’. This is not for the LA rock band but rather the winged creatures with large beaks and claws. Talons, I suppose you could call them. But I digress. Prior to home games at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, Benfica bring out a bonafide bird of prey and let it off the leash. It then flaps about the stadium like some soaring
symbol of the Portuguese club’s greatness, before they then tempt the airborne animal back to the gauntlet with the promise of a tasty snack.
A Pop Tart or something.
In The Lord of the Rings eagles rescue the fellowship when it looks like all is lost, whisking them away unscathed from the final battle in Mordor and back to safety. Some critics
have pointed out that, if the eagles were really helpful, they would have saved the fellowship the whole journey from Shire to Mount Doom by flying them there instead, but that’s
like saying don’t bother getting the rattler to Swansea or Cardiff away, just hop on a no-frills flight instead and be there in half the time. It’s ALL ABOUT the journey: supping a few
cans of Tennent’s Super and getting a good old singsong going. They had a lot of singsongs in The Lord of the Rings and generally I skipped those parts. But when football’s concerned, you can’t skip the singsongs.
2. Our highest climber this week, moving up ten places, is HALLEY’S COMET. This short-period comet, named for the editor and publisher and friend of Newton Edmond
Halley, appears sky-wise during many of England’s greatest rucks. It was there – check the tapestry if you don’t believe me - in 1066, when that great kick-off happened in
Hastings. Then again in 1910, as though a harbinger of the forthcoming Great War. Then again in 1986, when I, for one, was mullering Argentines every which way but loose in
Mexico after we were cheated by Maradona in the World Cup Quarter-Final.
The next time Halley’s Comet shuffles around is in 2061, which is some wait. Hell, by that time Newcastle United might have won a trophy and the Scottish national side could
have qualified for a major international tournament.
But what if we stacked the deck somehow? Sent some kind of lasso up into space and dragged said lumbering chunk of rock Earth-wise? Got it to interfere - somehow – with the
atmosphere around each and every football game in order that they descended into the kind of chaos we saw in the opening stanza of the rugby league play-off final at Old
Trafford, when that one lumbering comet of a feller pummelled into the other lumbering comet of a feller? Imagine that.
I’m not saying it will happen, but it might. I’ll have a word with my good friend Nige Farage.
1. And our undisputed number one this week is… Drum-roll please… THE MUSIC OF PHIL COLLINS: Steven Gerrard would wholeheartedly
agree the current fare of pseudo-pop being served up pre-match and at half-time in Premier League games is sub-standard, reflective of the neutered atmosphere within football stadia
today. Grounds should be liminal locations where one can throw off the shackles of society and expected behaviour. They should be places to let off steam.
When I were a nipper, standing on the terraces at Elland Road, Leeds, Video Killed the Radio Star crackled out of tinny speakers above our heads and seemed to signify a wonderful
new world. One could look past the fact a chubby gentleman to the rear-left of you was pissing in the pocket of your new shellie because the music transported you. And while all
around was chaos, you could hold your place – stand! – and hear the music sound like a thousand heavenly trumpets to celebrate you holding firm
in a ruck.
Now we get dirges, drones like The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. Every team in the country’s got a Seven Nation Army song with which they ‘serenade’ one of their favourites. It’s
No wonder Stevie G got all up in the coupon of that DJ in a Southport night-spot and asked him to please – pleassssseeee – stick on some Philbert Collins Esquire. Now that’s real
music. Even Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho would concur. If we get a little more Phil pumping out of the stereos at our football stadia, we will forget the identikit, safe nature of
these unfortunate places and instead remember the glory days, back when you knew there would be a decent ruck, any place you went. Collins was the soundtrack to those halcyon
days. That’s what I’d love to hear ‘coming in the air tonight’. Oh lo.