In a period where the enjoyment of the game is slowly being eroded by over-zealous safety officers, stewards, the political climate of the times and the outrageous economics of it all, we have a Leicester legend to be grateful for.
On your knees nutter. You’re gonna be cured!
I once watched a bit of that American TV show ‘Dr Phil’. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a show in which people write in to the TV Doctor telling of a loved one who has a behavioural or psychological problem. They’re then all invited onto the show and, in front of a sterile and completely sane studio audience, Dr Phil gives it to them straight, sorts them out psychologically and sends them on their way to behave like normal, everyday God-fearing folks. It’s a sort of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ for American nutters.
Anyroad, I was watching it once when on comes this clip of a man sitting in his living room watching the TV, whilst his seriously concerned loved one narrated to Dr Phil the man’s problem: he watches a ball game and gets so much into it, he actually starts raising his voice, shouts at the TV and horror upon horror, sometimes he even cusses out aloud when things on the pitch go badly!
Back in the studio, and with the man and his wife in front of him, Dr Phil was in a grave mood; he’d never seen anything like it! Really! He went on to state that there was something seriously wrong here and his studio audience murmured and clapped in agreement. The poor bloke in question just sat there as the full weight of middle-American sanity began to bear down upon him. His wife looked smug and I imagined she was thinking that at last she was going to win this argument and cure her man of his problem. It was at this point that the man caved in and confessed that his behaviour was thoroughly way out of line and he needed help.
Now I don’t know how they tried to cure the poor, hen-pecked sod, because it was also at this point that I could stand no more and turned it off. But it got me thinking: it wasn’t him who was mad, but them!
But then that got me thinking too…..
So who are the nutters here?
I once knew someone who had worked as a cook in what we called back then ‘a loony bin’. He told me a story that I have never forgotten.
It was a hot summer, the ovens in the kitchen had been on all day, there was no air conditioning and they were understaffed and under pressure to get everything done on time. Sweltering, they had scrubbed, cooked, served, collected, scraped off scraps from plates and now they were almost finished with the washing up that had seemed endless. It was no secret; they all hated their jobs, but most didn’t have the confidence to leave. So they just put up with it.
Looking out of the windows from above the steaming sinks, the Chef stopped working and sighed. Outside, the lunatics, now fully satisfied with their dinners, had ambled out into the sunshine, lounging around, sun bathing, laughing, joking, playing games, flirting, falling in love and generally, so it seemed, living the life of Riley; free from all responsibility and stress.
The Chef took in the scene of joy and happiness outside, and then turned to see his sweating colleagues in their confined, prison-like kitchen getting on with their crummy jobs which they did for a pittance of a wage, day after day, week after week, year after year. He then asked one question....
“So it’s them outside who are the lunatics, is it?”
Normality: it’s a larf!
Like as not, once you put ‘normality’ into perspective, it turns out to be way more insane than we at first perceive it to be. Only we hardly ever put it into perspective, because we’re just too busy dealing with the structures and the systems that this mad world has thrust upon us. We’re too busy building financial security, working for the stability of our families and being afraid to rock the boat too much; too busy trying to socially fit in and become liked; too busy dealing with our own psychological and biological selves to stop and notice that half the stuff that goes on around us is utter madness. And in all honesty, we’re quite right to not take too much notice because it’s these things which, (besides from seriously doing our heads in), give us our sense of normality. And if we didn’t have that sense of normality, we really would go bonkers!
Dr Phil might not admit it, but it’s a tricky business all this trying to belong to the ‘normal lot’.
Not convinced? Well you could watch the world news or watch a Michael Palin travel programme to see quite clearly that Johnny Foreigner with all his mad ways, is quite clearly a lunatic, no matter that within his culture he’s only behaving normally. But why bother looking abroad? Here in the British Isles we’ve spent centuries producing systems and traditions, that appear normal to us, and yet to any rational Herbert, they are quite clearly utterly bonkers. I mean would you try to tell an American that the dress code of a High Court Judge was practical pub attire in 2007? Well you might for a joke. But would you want that tradition’s dress-code changed because it was a bit odd? I wouldn’t.
No, it is a tricky business, and no matter how confident we or the likes of Dr Phil may become in our own little worlds that we are perfectly normal, I reckon we’ll dismiss the idea that we ourselves may actually be ‘just a bit mad’ at the risk of seriously bullshitting ourselves.
Fortunately though, in the British Isle, we have a long tradition of not taking life too seriously and just getting on with it, free from the need of a shrink or a TV Evangelist to get us through the day. We also have a long tradition of revering and cherishing our eccentrics: those ‘nutters’ (like your typical Morris Dancer) who take our traditions to the extreme and don’t give a flying fig as to what the world thinks of them. But will we always be like this? Well obviously not if we start taking the advice of American TV psychiatrists.
Is our game really being sanitised?
Much has been said of our culture being destroyed by political correctness; our unique spontaneity and thought systems being stifled and directed by the media and marketing men; our traditional way of doing things being transformed by global influences. For us footy supporters, this is something we feel strongly about as our ‘match day experience’ (spit, spit) is at the mercy of all of those influences and it appears that many of those in charge of the game have embraced these new influences, irrespective of what the older, traditional fan might prefer. Many of us believe that our enjoyment of the game, is slowly being ruined by those in charge who are pandering to the norms of the times; norms which seem to include a ban on anything that might cause enjoyment and remind us as to why we used to love going to games in the first place. Unfortunately, it has become all very puritanical. All very Dr Phil. But there’s a fly in the ointment.
An old hero, for a new generation?
The first time I clapped eyes on Bernie was when the Birch invited him onto the pitch one halftime in a match I can’t even remember: but I still remember Bernie. Birch explained that the previous week LCFC had had an away match against one of our East Midland rivals and he’d been driving towards the game, when to his surprise, in the middle of nowhere, he passed a little man decked out in an LCFC hat, scarf, and I presume, his ubiquitous tartan flares. What was he doing? Walking to the match…..in another city! The Birch stopped his car and offered him a lift, but the offer was declined and the little man set off again. The Birch didn’t give up and asked him how he expected to walk all the way to the far off city. “Like this!” came the reply, and off went Bernie not to be stopped. Back on the pitch at Filbert Street, with encouragement from the Birch, Bernie gave us a display of ‘how he walked’. And yes, it appears he walks by putting one foot in front of the other! Amazing stuff! It also appeared that, tut tut, Bernie had been drinking.
I don’t know how the Birch got in contact with him, but as soon as I saw him and heard that he walked to every home game from Quorn, and even to some away games, I knew that this was dedication way beyond the norm. I can’t speak for anyone else, but that was when the Legend of Bernie began to form in my imagination.
Since then, I’ve lost count of the reported Bernie experiences: the funny stories involving fellow fans, away fans and stewards, the hilarious pre and post-match sightings usually in pubs or on trains, the video clips on YouTube which back up these stories, the online photo galleries (you can even buy the t-shirt) and the slowly, very slowly changing face of Bernie fashion: it was a sad day when the tartan flares were ditched, but he sure looks good in them trackie bottoms and jester’s hat complete with smudged face-paint.
My favourite Bernie experience is the one filmed by the Leeds fans on the train where he goes on to recount all of the Yorkshire things he believes are deserving ridicule. Amongst them being: Emerdale….arrggghhh!!!!! Yorkshire Pudding….arrgghhhh!!! and quite bizarrely…..Toffee Apples….aarrrggghhhh!!!!!
Sheer class Bernie!
But would Dr Phil be able to understand him?
I think I have bad news for the good Doctor. If you think a bloke who gets so much into a game and lets out the odd swearword at the telly is the sign of insanity, then you’ve got your work cut out for you in Europe mate. Same goes for many countries around the world. Never mind Bernie, according to Dr Phil’s criteria, we are all mad. I wouldn’t disagree too much; I’d just like to remind him, that from where I’m sitting, he looks like a grade A dime-bar as well. That’s just my view of his world.
But it is true that football supporters tend to lose themselves in a very special world of their own. Those who are not part of this world, seem at a loss to understand not just the fanatic shouting at the TV, but the clearly deranged idiot with his club's badge tattooed on his chest or the bloke who spends most of his wages travelling the length of the country to watch 90 minutes of 22 men chasing a bag of air. To the outsiders, we are all nutters, and in many ways they are absolutely right; only we can understand our fellow supporters can't we? Can't we?
Well with Bernie, (like some raggedy, bearded guru who decides to sit on top of a rock for 50 years wearing just a nappy and eating yoghurt because that's what he believes his religion calls of him to do)...with Bernie I think his devotion is a little beyond our comprehension. He has dived so extremely into his world that absolutely no one will totally understand what LCFC means to him, but then why should we try to fully understand him? Like all eccentrics, we should just be glad that they have come along for the ride and are cheering us all up.
Stuff the Puritans. Choose Life. Choose Bernie.
And this is what Dr Phil and his bloody TV audience just do not get. They can try to sanitise it all they want, but we know that life sometimes has a nasty habit of kicking you in the groin, but then that’s why we’re determined to enjoy it while we can. Dr Phil’s take on life just doesn’t apply to ours. His advice just doesn’t match with our national sense of humour. And having been to an American soccer match, I have no doubt that Dr Phil and his studio audience would have felt perfectly at home there and good luck to them, but I found it to be a soulless, over-commercialised, boring experience and I couldn’t wait to get out. Is that really where our game is going?
I hope not, but I do sense that our culture, and our football with it, seem to be increasingly redefined by daft rules from faceless bureaucrats, marketing theorists and national and local politicians: these rules often seem too puritanical for me, and putting aside their lack of common sense or balance, they seem to embrace ideas which go against my sense of enjoyment and are definitely going towards the American model that I experienced.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, and that’s why I think that it’s worth remembering that every time Bernie sups a pint, enters that stadium, blows that horn and is just his natural self, he’s going against the tide and he’s doing that full in the face of those that would like our game to go in another direction.
In Shakespeare’s time, he had to struggle against the puritans who wanted to ban many forms of enjoyment. In one of his plays in which he dealt with them, he put in a character who defied them by simply being himself and enjoying life. Bernie wears that jester’s hat well and I’m sure Shakespeare would have approved. Long my you toot that horn Bernie. Dr Phil…………Aarrgghhh!!!!!!!