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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 6 May 2021

TV Wrap - Poppy displays hit new heights of absurdity while Jose anoints Liverpool as champions

Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger turned up alongside Richard Keys and Andy Gray.

WATCHING THE ASSISTED waddle of a man in a giant poppy suit and inexplicable clown shoes at Tranmere was the moment it all became clear – the public reverence for the poppy at football games has become the kind of masturbation that does cause blindness. 

For this great festival of public respect has lost all sense of self-awareness.

English football has created a strange dogma around the wearing of the poppy ahead of Armistice Day, and having made it largely prescriptive, it has now become performative.

Hence the last few years have seen clubs engage in a kind of arms-race of solemnity, with the results evermore kitsch and absurd.

That video is of PoppyMan’s first appearance at Tranmere a couple of years ago, but he was again in attendance for the club’s game with Wycombe at the weekend. 

Match of the Day opened with a sombre Gary Lineker saying “Lest we forget”, after a montage from around the grounds. Leicester City fans held up an enormous poppy tifo; Spurs’ animated a torrent of falling poppies on their big screen; West Ham mascot Hammerhead posed with a wreath and veteran soldiers; Liverpool stitched poppies into their corner flags.

To be clear – choosing to wear the poppy to remember Britain’s war dead is entirely fair and should be respected, but these ostentatious displays of pantomime respect around football games both diminish the earnestness of that decision and also makes it more difficult for those who choose not to display the symbol.

As to why this has military pageantry has invaded Engish football in recent years, who knows. Perhaps it is football’s way of trying to assert some kind of stable British identity amid a hyperglobalised game. If so, we might see a fall in these pageants when Sam Allardyce gets his next job. 

leicester-city-v-arsenal-premier-league-king-power-stadium Pre-game pageantry at Leicester City. Source: Nigel French

But anyway, to the actual football, and the Super Sunday where super just wouldn’t do.

Sky have been hyping The Big One between Liverpool and Manchester City all week, and even assigned it the countdown clock they usually reserve for the reckless indulgences of millionaires, like transfer deadline day, or Brexit.

They had worked themselves to such a spasm of anticipation that Geoff Shreeves led a dizzy cry for help in his pre-game chat with Virgil van Dijk.

“Virgil, can you put this game into perspective for us?”

Vincent Kompany joined The Expendables in the Sky studio for the day that was in it, with Roy Keane sadly shorn of anything to complain about and Jose Mourinho sitting there majestically, wearing the air of a man who still believes he is above this punditry lark.

Keane and Jose are an interesting comparative study – whereas Keane talks generally about the game and you learn only about him, Jose talks largely about himself and in turn you learn about the game.

Hence he could talk with authority on what it is like to face these sides, recalling a few of his previous jousts with Liverpool. “When I gave you the title you didn’t call me to say thank you”, he said in reference to his spoiling Liverpool’s title charge in 2014, as he leaned over and clasped Kompany’s hand.

Talk of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s handball annexed virtually all of the half-time coverage, with Vincent Kompany raising the cudgels in the name of anatomy by declaring that Bernardo Silva’s hand was in a natural position while Trent’s was not.

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By full-time, Jose said he didn’t want to talk about the handball any longer, and instead talked of how he would he keep his back four tightly together try to shut down Liverpool’s attack…”except for the last time when I came to Anfield and I got sacked.”

Jose then pulled out an old trick, goading Liverpool fans to see if they are truly ready to confront their deepest ambitions.

“I am not there”, he said pointing at the dug-outs beneath him, again stressing his current status. “I am here. Here, from my position, I think it’s done.”

Keane agreed that the title race is done, albeit in less mystical tones, while Kompany flagged Liverpool’s hectic winter schedule and their relatively thin squad as proof that the race is far from run.

Elsewhere around The Big One, Arsene Wenger turned up alongside Richard Keys and Andy Gray in their air-conditioned halls of deracinated banter on BeIn Sports.

Wenger talked with typical eloquence of Anfield’s “soul”, the ground in which a player can take a corner and reach out to shake “a brother’s” hand in the crowd, but then had to stoop to respond to churning speculation.

Having acted with a kind of desperation to position himself for the vacant Bayern Munich job earlier this week, Wenger clarified to Keys that he was approached…and told he was not in the running.

“Does that mean you’re done with management?”, asked Keys.

“No, no, not necessarily”, said Wenger with less certainty than he has at any point in the past, and was then saved a follow-up when his phone rang in his pocket.

“That’s the Scottish FA!”, joked Andy Gray.

 It was the kind of joke that becomes slightly too pointed as everyone briefly realised that maybe the idea is not quite as absurd and unrealistic as he had intended.

These are the lives led by Jose and Arsene now.

Two of the most dominant figures in the history of English football, they are increasingly cast as part of a former order, left to jump between television studios and seek just a little bit more of English football’s abundant respect.

- Originally published at 06.05

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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