Leicester, Feb 27th, 2017. A sombre man leads a funeral procession past the football ground. Inside the hearse is a coffin. As he passes through the crowds gathering for the Leicester-Liverpool game, fans snap merrily on their mobile phones. A closer inspection of the coffin reveals a floral tribute: R.I.P Football.
At the back of the procession are several PR guys, wearing green shirts advertising a certain Irish betting company. Football is indeed dead, and not because a Roman manager has been sacked a season after winning the league. BANTS.
We are used to banter in football now. It permeates our culture like some vapid tapeworm. From Sun Bet pimping out a fat reserve keeper to eat pies on live TV, to wacky mascots leaping on celebrating goalscorers, we exist on a banter-rich diet: safe, sanitized and seriously unfunny.
Soccer AM in the 90s was the nadir, with Tim Lovejoy as the evil incarnate, the poet laureate of Mad Bants, a Loaded magazine pullout become sentient. Banter is King. Long live the King, says Ray Winstone’s floaty head as you sob into your pint of overpriced lager.
It reduces everything we do to the level of a village hall pantomime; it belittles us, wrapping a condescending arm around us and telling us nothing matters, we’re just playing out a game – bet on this, buy this, spend this, consume consume consume then share all on social media. You’re not a person – you’re a fourth quadrant staple on some marketing manager’s spreadsheet. It reduces our national game to an ad break with occasional outbreaks of sport.
BANTS. Possibly the most terrifying expression to hear, a knuckle-clenching stomach turning explosion of socially-driven hilarity that signifies something truly shit has taken place.
“Come off it mate” I hear you say, scoffing a pie in super slo-mo HD, winking and gurning for the camera, “It’s BANTS… a larf…it’s not like anyone died!!”
Rome. January 18th, 1977. Two large men burst into a jewellery store, faces partially covered up with their jackets – “Fermi Tutti, questa è una rapina!!” Hands up, this is a robbery!
From behind the counter, the owner ducks and twists, pulling out a shotgun. He points it at the men. A beat. One of the men spots this, turns around and legs it out of the shop, the door slamming behind him.
The other man, tall, strikingly blond, shakes his head. His blue eyes sparkle with mischief. He actually moves closer to the owner, almost daring him to use the gun, intimidating him with his height and aggression.
When the gun goes off, the pellets slam into the blond man’s chest, knocking him to the ground. The smile wiped from his face, he lies, virtually senseless on the cold tiles, gasping for air.
The owner comes slowly around the counter, hands shaking, still clasping the weapon, as he looks down at the erstwhile robber, a grim flicker of recognition on his face. ‘Ma dai..?’
The blond man lies on the floor, looking up at the owner, blood pouring out of a wound that from close up, is clearly mortal. Through the pain his natural humour shines through: ‘Era uno scherzo, solo uno scherzo’.
‘It was only a joke, only a joke’. BANTS.