Flint's Off on One

When my maternal grandfather passed away, we were separated by nearly 3,000 miles. It would have taken three connecting flights and a fair few roubles to fly home, so I couldn’t attend his funeral. How could I pay my respects to a man who’d survived global conflict and raised my mother? It was strange kind of emotion; not guilt, not emptiness, but frustration. I stayed up all night writing the eulogy, but it still wasn’t enough.

So at the time my family gathered around him one last time, I bowed my head and fell silent. I thought of his best qualities, and how he had held his great granddaughter, and I smiled. I was probably a nightmare grandchild to look after; once I had decided it’d be fun to wake up in the middle of the night and slide down the stairs in my duvet, ripping it to shreds in the process. All he did was ask why with a glint in his eye. Of course when my grandmother appeared, he had to scald me for appearance’s sake, but he understood me. He was a gentle and kind-hearted soul who loved and was loved.

Opening my eyes, I drew myself back to the present, and got on with my work. Heartless as it felt for a few moments, there was little else I could do but continue with my life. All I had needed was that short moment though, and it brought me some measure of comfort.

So what has this got to do with football? For starters, millions of people can relate to my experience every day, regardless of allegiance. Football is the great socio-political leveler, and a platform where extreme emotions are collectively espoused and fermented. Other than marriages and births – and even then is debatable – what other platform provides such intense memories?

My bone to chew is over the confluence of my personal experience and that shared by thousands in football stadia across the world. Grievance is a matter that is entirely unique to every single person, so I shall tread sensitively at this point. When a player, manager, public figure or other is remembered before a match, what happens? It used to be a minute’s silence; now, it seems, a minute’s applause is the modus operandi. Call me a dinosaur, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.

In all fairness, when you have 50,000 people to share a remembrance with, it is nigh on impossible to satisfy everyone’s personal desires. ‘A celebration of life’ is how it is often sold; I’m sorry, but to me that is just wrong. Celebrating and appreciation should be done during a lifetime or at least a short while after, no immediately. If you only appreciate someone once they’re gone, haven’t you missed the point?

Some readers may be screaming blue murder at their screens right now – I apologise profusely if my views offend anyone. I have already acknowledged that coming to terms with a loss is by definition a personal matter, so perhaps my opinion is invalid for many. It is all part of a process that everyone goes through differently, and maybe for some it is the most effective way to begin the healing.

But here’s the thing; before a match inside a stadium with thousands of others, you are not alone. It is not about just your wishes; it’s about those of the mass gathered alongside you. When the minute’s applause breaks out, the noise shatters whatever inner thoughts one may wish to process in remembering the departed. The difference a minute’s silence brings is the opportunity for everyone to reflect on their own personal memories.

After a death has passed, once individuals have come to terms with it in their own way, celebration can begin. Reminiscing over a sensational goal from yesteryear, a characteristic quirk or simply a lifetime of service can turn to the positives. Belting out songs and chants in memory of legends tragically lost can bring catharsis.

What I object to is the hijacking of what should be a moment of remembrance. The utter disgrace of Charles Itandje at the Hillsborough 20th anniversary service at Anfield was condemned, and quite rightly so. As the useless lowlife giggled and laughed while thousands tried to honour the memory of the 96 lost lives, I don’t think many would have complained if he had been banned from the sport entirely.

In a sensational tribute penned by Steven Scragg recently to the role Kenny Dalglish played for Liverpool in the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough, the then-manager’s reaction was remarkable. Scragg wrote about how King Kenny threw open the doors of Anfield to allow fans to grieve in whichever way the chose. There was no instruction, no formality to proceedings, just human empathy towards the different needs of different people. Some wanted to scream and shout, others to stay silent, but all had the choice. Bravo Kenny, bravo.

I remember one argument put forward about applause covering the embarrassment of idiots disturbing the silence. This might not be the most popular view, but even this doesn’t hold up. On the very rare occasion that some cretin bellows out some noise in the silence, every single time they are silenced themselves by those around. I find a release of rage at the interruption is universally followed by a swell of faith in the vast majority. While not exactly how one might have envisaged the memory, the overriding effect is still positive.

Too many things are dictated to us nowadays – what is acceptable, what is not – but grief should never be one. Now I realise that I am in a sense undoing my own argument by making this statement; who am I to deny a minute’s applause? In your own time, I would never dream of doing so. In the unique setting of a packed stadium, however, there aren’t sides to a debate; the aim is to unite. In my humble opinion, silence is the only way to truly allow this to happen. Is 60 second of reflection really too much to ask?