Friday, 25 October 2013

Football at Wembley (but not as we know it)

The last time I was at Wembley for a sporting event was on 16 November 1977 when I watched England beat Italy 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier with goals from Kevin Keegan in the 11th minute setting us on our way before Trevor Brooking finished the job in the 80th minute. The team that day would moisten the eye of the most jaded football fans -- Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Trevor Cherry, Ray Wilkins, Dave Watson, Emlyn Hughes, Kevin Keegan, Steve Coppell, Dave Latchford, Trevor Brooking and Peter Barnes.

This Sunday I shall be at Wembley again, to watch the San Francisco 49ers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. And despite Jacksonville's feline sobriquet, I shall not be putting my faith in that particular type of Jaguar. I am a diehard 49ers fan, having watched them every Sunday night since the days of Dwight Clark, Roger Craig, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young through to the current stars -- Frank Gore, Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Aldon Smith, Donte Whitner and Patrick Willis.

Of course, beyond the name and location, there's not much to link the Wembley I visited in 1977 with Sunday's stadium. Gone are the twin towers of the old stadium, long since replaced by a sort of arch or rainbow or what have you. It's progress I suppose.

But even more startling is the imposed code of behaviour. In 1977, the stewards would relieve you of any bottles, largely for your own safety, but were fairly relaxed about beer cans. In any case, pelting the travelling Italian fans with empty cans of Skol in the half-time interval was only to be expected. In fact it was more or less mandatory. Many were thrown back.

I certainly don't recall receiving any more detailed information on restrictions than that. Of course times have changed and now, in these days of comedy litigation, things have to be spelt out. And the letter that came with my tickets for Sunday indicated strongly that I should check the website for details of proscribed items.

Of course it is not really a valid comparison -- a European football match a third of a century ago and an all American event that is little more than coincidentally on British soil. In 1977, we had experienced 32 years of peace, whereas in 2013, one feels that we're almost on a war footing.

Or so it would seem from the list of banned items. This is all, and I kid you not, taken from the website. And while some of it undoubtedly makes sense, other items take a bit of explaining. I can understand for instance a restriction on "bottles", "weapons" and "knives". There are, after all, always a few dimwits who think that a knife is as essential as a wallet. But do we really need to be told that we should not bring explosives to the ground. I can understand a ban on smoke flares (which incidentally are listed) but how many American football fans would normally attend the ball game with their pockets full of dynamite? Well, maybe in Los Angeles I suppose.

Camcorders and cameras are also banned. But what about smart phones? Let's see them try to relieve the Wembley crowd of 90,000 iPhones then. I don't think so. And binoculars are also prohibited. Bad luck if, like me, you're shortsighted. Apparently I only paid to attend the game. Actually seeing it is extra. Or maybe they're worried about people carrying binoculars full of gunpowder.

Bags are right out. Whether they are coolers, camera cases, backpacks, duffle bags or even supermarket bags, it matters not. All luggage is banned. I can just imagine the security guards quaking in terror at the sight of an army of football fans strolling down Wembley Way armed with Tesco carrier bags. If only they had been deployed in Iraq...

It gets better. Glass is forbidden. No exemptions. Just glass. So that presumably includes glass jewellery does it Mr Security Guard? No, don't look at me -- these are your rules not mine. Okay, if they are allowed, how about bracelets? Small dishes? Sushi platters? Chandeliers?

The fun police will also dispossess you of any banners in your possession or flags with poles longer than a metre -- you know, the kind of thing sports fans take to ball games. That's right. The same goes for vuvuzelas, rattles and horns. Actually I'm with them on the vuvuzelas.

No animals either, apart from the usual guide dogs. To be honest, it had never crossed my mind -- until now -- to take an animal to a football game. But now you mention it, I can see the possibilities. Already I'm formulating a plan to sneak Monty the iguana into the ground dressed as an ice cream vendor. And I can't wait to see how the locusts go down.

But this one really is a sign of the times -- there is a blanket ban on laptops and laser pointers. Indeed. Now I spend more time than most in front of a computer screen but even I suspect I can get through a couple of hours of football without recourse to PowerPoint. I mean really -- not even Bill Gates would take a computer to a sporting event.

My favourite prohibition is probably the blanket ban on pool and beach equipment. No beachballs are allowed near the hallowed turf. And goodness knows what the security guards would make of rubber rings, lilos, dinghies and inflatable crocodiles. It's nearly November -- who on earth is thinking about pool accessories four days before Halloween?

And you're not to bring hairspray with you. Now I don't want to trigger a gender war here but I'm prepared to bet that most of the crowd at this game will be male. And, whilst just about plausible for the fairer sex, I struggle to believe that there will be any male hair grooming emergency of sufficient severity as to require the immediate application of hairspray. Call me old-fashioned but I am prepared to bet that they will not be a single man travelling to the game with a can of hairspray about his person. In any case there is no room in his pockets -- they're full of dynamite.

Incidentally there is also a ban on pepper spray and mace. Probably wise -- you wouldn't want to confuse that with hairspray.

But I've saved the best till last -- Wembley has, believe it or not, a ban on footballs. Understandable really -- I mean who would want to see a football at Wembley...

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