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From roars to windmills: the art of whooping up a football crowd

These days, there are very few football phenomena that remain undocumented. And yet, despite painstaking research, I can’t find anything about whooping up. Not a podcast, vodcast or TikTok video. I’ve had to invent the term “whooping up” because it hasn’t even got a name yet. But we’ve all seen footballers do it – turning their back to the pitch and waving both arms upwards as if to say: “Roar, damn you!” And we do roar, don’t we, those of us who like to verbalise at matches?

It says something important about our relationship with people who kick a ball about for our entertainment. Because there is no other arena where we so obediently do what rich people tell us. When our bosses invite us to live their company’s values, we don’t bustle off and live them. When Jacob Rees-Mogg whines about the difficult decisions he has to make that, inevitably, lead to a new lease of poverty for nurses and single parents, we don’t sympathise. But when a 20-something millionaire exhorts us – goads us – to show more appreciation for his efforts, we just do.

It hasn’t always happened. There is no footage of Stan Mortensen flexing in front of the Blackpool faithful, baggy shorts tautened, neck vein throbbing. Perhaps the genesis was Stuart Pearce’s cathartic penalty celebration at Euro 96, during which he appeared to be inviting his own fans to a car park punch-up. Or Mick Channon’s windmill goal celebration. Nobody knows.

What we do know is, like all spontaneous expressions of sporting emotion, it has already been corrupted out of all recognition. Because whoever did it first, it was instinctive. A moment of passion, of connection between player and fans. A silver thread of love and loyalty. “We need you!” the one seemed to say. “We’re here,” the many seemed to respond, in the form of a big shout. Genuinely stirring stuff, when done right. But increasingly, it’s not.

There are rules to the whoop-up. For example, you can do one when you finally win a corner: “Shout louder and we might score that goal we’ve looked nothing like scoring for the entire game so far.” Equally, a defender can do one when they emerge from the wreckage of a meaty, just-legal tackle. But you can’t do it after a flabby backpass or a sliced clearance into touch. It won’t get the same traction. Then there’s timing. You see most whoop-ups towards the end of a game. The pattern seems to be: turgid, turgid, hapless, concede goal, half time, turgid, bereft minor successful action, WHOOP-UP. Going after five minutes would catch us cold.

It also matters who does the whooping-up. We responded to Pearce because he probably would have run through a brick wall if he thought it would help. You can take it from the club captain, or the grizzled journeyman, urging us to put wind in his sails and VapoRub on his weary thighs. But the kid on loan from Manchester City? Surely not.

These rules are important, because whooping up is a moment of commune. A chance to connect with the otherwise distant players and feel as though we – portly, pie-wielding plebeians – really can make a difference if we just shout a bit more. And it’s through the breaking of the rules that the whoop-up will become meaningless, and pass into history like the “Can you hear us on the box?” chant.

When England played Italy in October, Jude Bellingham attempted three whoop-ups. Now, he’s a very talented footballer, but he’s too young to be whooping up. He’s still working out his social skills, as so many of us were at his age (and some of us still are). All three of his whoop-ups were conducted with his gaze directed at the grass. It’s whoop-up 101, this. You have to make eye contact. What’s more, he whooped up in the first half, which lacks the necessary sense of crisis. But this being Wembley, glorious temple of empty gestures, the crowd still roared. Like, a pallid “England-at-Wembley” roar, but they still did it. This almost-teenager, rolling in money and free leisurewear, raised his arms and the crowd roared.

So you know what’s coming next. The under 10s on Saturday morning, who already point to the sky in tribute to grandad, alive and well in Epping, will be whooping up their mums, and the mums, suede boots ruined in the touchline mud, will whoop back. Because that’s how the magic dies. Pop groups start talking about “fanbases”. Gangsters get publishing deals. And kids whoop up their parents for a first-half free-kick. Mark it down. The year the whoop-up died.

This post was originally published on this site

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