Saturday, 15 November 2014

WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?*

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When I wrote The Far Corner a lot of people expected Carlisle United to feature in it. Carlisle is not in the North East,, but because BBC TV have always lumped our region in with Cumbria, it kind of feels as if it is. We shared Tom Kilgour and George House. Our news is their news, and vice versa.
There's also been a traditional link between football in the two regions. Penrith have been members of the Northern League - off and on - since 1948. Whitehaven and Celtic Nation (formerly Gifford Park) are also currently playing in the NL, while Carlisle United and Workington were both once fixtures in the semi-pro North Eastern League alongside the likes of Blyth Spartans, North Shields, Gateshead and Spennymoor United.

Well anyway, I'm going to Brunton Park today to stand in the paddock, so after all the self-justification here's a thing from the Guardian about Olga the Fox

On Saturday I took a German sportswriter to witness one of the more eccentric ceremonies of British sporting culture – the placing of Olga the stuffed fox on the centre spot at Brunton Park. My overseas visitor was suitably impressed, if a little baffled.

"It's because of John Peel," I explained. "John Peel?" he said. "I did not know he was from Carlisle."
"He wasn't actually from Carlisle," I said, "but he was from Cumbria and he was the most famous English huntsman of all times." The German was aghast. "He hunted animals, and.... killed them?" he said. "Yes," I said cheerily. "There's a song about it and everything."

It was only at this point, as I studied his shocked face that it dawned on me that the John Peel he was thinking of was not the man in his coat so gay that people kenned at the break of day, but the late and much‑beloved Liverpool‑supporting music-loving radio presenter. I realised that I had conjured a nightmare vision in the sportswriter's mind of those famously relaxed yet enthusiastic tones introducing his Radio One show with the words: "Later we've got a session by the Gang of Four and new singles from the Fall and Scritti Politti, but before that I'm going to set my dogs on this otter."

I did consider explaining the misunderstanding, obviously. But as Mickey Rourke famously observed: "Sometimes you just gotta roll the potato."

Olga the Fox was a much-loved feature of Carlisle's glory years of the 1970s when the Cumbrians briefly headed the English league with a team starring Joe Laidlaw, a busy, barrel‑chested inside-forward whose facial hair was so luxurious he looked permanently like he was on his way to a fancy dress party as Dr Zaius from Planet of the Apes. In those days a portly man in a blue-and-white suit who was known locally as Twinkletoes carried Olga out to the centre circle.

Strangely, this elegant routine was later dropped and Olga was stored away in an office with claims that a curse would be visited on anyone who moved her. Recently, however, she was brought back after a clamour by a public who plainly felt that any amount of pestilence, plague or famine will comfortably be offset by the chance to watch a stuffed animal sitting on the pitch for five minutes. And, let's face it, when you've survived Michael Knighton it's bound to give you a sense of resilience. The big hope for many of us is that the revival of Olga will inspire Bristol City to bring back the man in the smock with the dancing cockerel.

Carlisle is not the only sports club whose fans like to see a dead animal on the playing surface, I should add. In El Salvador the pelting of visiting goalkeepers with dead cats is routine, while fans of the Detroit Redwings of the NHL have been celebrating big wins by hurling octopi on to the ice for reasons that are too complex to go into here since the 1950s. In a game in 1995 Redwing supporters chucked 36 octopi over the Perspex barriers, the biggest of which weighed 30 pounds. The following season some Lake Michigan loon topped that by lobbing a 50-pounder on to the rink. Sadly, a few years ago NHL authorities banned Redwings staff from twirling the recovered octopi above their heads, a piece of interference which I feel certain was denounced as "political correctness gone mad" by callers to whatever the local equivalent of the Victoria Derbyshire Show is.



Though I dare say they'd be more disturbed by a giant squid, the sight of Olga has caused a certain disquiet among some visiting fans. When a friend of mine came up earlier in the season with Charlton Athletic he told me that the visiting Londoners had seen the parading of Olga as a sign of how primitive the north of England is. A personal view is that the Cumbrians don't really do enough in this direction. I think they should accentuate the primitive for psychological purposes. If I was in charge at Brunton Park I wouldn't have Olga brought on to the pitch – as she is these days – by somebody in a Disney-fied, child-friendly fox costume, but by a shaven-headed albino in silken robes covered in runic symbols, who'd follow the placing of the dead beast in the centre circle by daubing a broken crucifix on the forehead of rambunctious defender and local cult hero Richard Keogh in fresh blood. I'm sure this would unnerve opponents even more than the All Blacks' Haka.

*Hattee-hattee hattee-ho amongst other things, apparently.

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