Bryan Robson slouched in the corner of the booth with Newcy Brown Ale froth dripping down his chin. A grin spread across his face upon spotting Paul McGrath stumble towards the toilets, only to find the emergency exit. It had been one of those sort of nights.
“Hey Skipper, fancy another?” pipes up Norman Whiteside. The barman grunted acknowledgement for what felt like the 14th time that evening. In fact, it was the 15th. Arthur Albiston just quietly sipped on his ‘la-di-da’ whisky.
A little boy in the corner suddenly emerged from the haze of smoke, screeching some incomprehensible garbled sound. “Wharra fuck ish it, Gordon?” slurred Robson. The pipsqueak kid was starting to get on his nerves if truth be told. The flame-red blur wobbling somewhere near the frenzied squeak was shaking wildly, and needed to be stilled.
“Thaza las time Strachan ye bloody Jock…” said Robson, as he chucked the pale, brown liquid swilling around his glass. His aim was slightly off, though, and a drop landed a bit further than intended. Someone had walked in at just the right time to be greeted by the backwash of Manchester United’s captain. Ah, once he recognises who we are, he’ll apologise to ME, thought Captain Marvel.
The problem was, the incomer recognised him only too well.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOVAN IS THIS???” boomed the familiar incomprehensible drawl. It could just have easily been a polite request to wipe the beer off his shoe for all Robson knew, in fact. It didn’t matter: the result would have been the same.
“YOUSE GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, NOW!!”
“Spoilsport…” muttered Robson, just a little too loudly as he lurched across a few limbs lying in his path. The next thing he remembered was the bright sunlight tearing through his eyelids as the mother of all hangovers gripped his head, feeling a dent on his head, and seeing a broken hairdryer lying at his feet.
The aftermath wouldn’t be pretty, but he couldn’t help feeling proud. It had been a good night.
The evolution of footballers’ Christmas parties
Had the 1987 Manchester United Christmas party happened in today’s world, all hell would have let loose. (*DISCLAIMER: For any lawyers stupid enough to take that dramatisation seriously, it wasn’t technically based on real events. Ahem.) Memes, streams, and kiss-and-tells galore would have torn the club a new arsehole.
Players’ bonding sessions were simply almighty piss-ups in those days. Like it or not, the finest entertainers really did believe it was the best way to bring them together. Sir Alex Ferguson famously clamped down on the endemic drinking culture that had embedded itself at Manchester United. The drinking crew may have loathed it at the time, but it was inevitable that their excesses would be curtailed eventually.
Nowadays, club Christmas parties have a sanitised, corporate feel to them. There is always a “hilarious” fancy dress theme, and a swanky exclusive night spot is hired. Amazingly, photographers from mainstream media manage to capture some of the organised hilarity. Everything is hunky-dory.
Increasingly, though, clubs are starting to ban the festive social event. I can’t say I blame them either, to be honest. The risk of their players flaunting their employer’s trust not to act like an absolute tit is just too great.
Jamie Robson’s blackface outfit
Take Dundee United’s Jamie Robson. In his infinite wisdom, he decided it’d be a good idea to go for the mindless weapon’s outfit of choice: blackface. Just to ensure a few giggles, or in fact guarantee that he had definitely intended to cause offence, his outfit mimicked street sellers peddling worthless tat.
“As soon as I became aware that I could offend, I took immediate action and removed both the make-up and costume. I want to apologise for any offence I have caused, and I have also apologised to the club for not adhering to the standards expected.”
In what possible fucking universe did you think that might NOT offend, Jamie? What an utterly brain-dead pillock. What’s wrong with being a pirate, or an animal? A cartoon character perhaps? Ah, this might be the crux of that dilemma: nowadays, that just isn’t enough. Unless you cause a ripple, your efforts will be sneered at on social media. Competing for league points is one thing; woe betide losing face in the court of public opinion.
So who’s to blame? In Robson’s case, he obviously doesn’t have a leg to stand on. In light of Raheem Sterling’s very public racist abuse from the crowd at Chelsea, it is clear racism is still endemic in the fabric of the game. I’m sorry, it would be wonderful to trumpet what strides have been taken to tackle abuse. John Barnes was right, though; scratch beneath the surface, and ignorance still exists.
The pressure to fit in
Jamie Robson might just be an incredibly stupid person. That doesn’t excuse the flagrant racism, but it shows the how footballers are vulnerable to peer pressure. Get the most laughs, and fit in. Show me someone who believes this culture is all that different atmosphere to the drinking clubs of the 1980s, and I’ll show you a liar.
When the impressionable youngsters coming through at Arsenal in the early 1990s were drawn into the pub life, look what happened. Tony Adams and Paul Merson suffered addiction problems, and to their credit, they eventually recovered. Trade the words ‘pub’ and ‘alcohol’ to ‘fancy dress’ and shock factor,’ and it’s the same story.
I’m all for letting footballers have the privacy and freedom to let their hair down. You just try and handle being a young man with unimaginable wealth, fame and scrutiny without a release. Who cares if they get pissed? I don’t. When they are pressured into fitting in though, incidents like this are bound to happen. Let those that want it to have a lock-in down the local, I say. Just lock out prying eyes, and for god’s sake ban fancy dress.