One of the joys of following English soccer is learning some of its delightful jargon. My favorite bit, perhaps because it is so politically incorrect, is the phrase applied to second-rate soccer fights — “handbags at ten paces,” or “handbags” for short.
Recently England played Turkey in a crucial qualifying match for the European Championship to be held next year. England needed only a draw to qualify and seemed well on the way to getting at least that after being awarded a penalty kick shortly before half time. Up stepped team captain and matinee idol David Beckham (sometimes called the Spice Boy because of his marriage to one of the Spice Girls), owner of perhaps the best right foot in the sport. Unfortunately, he lost his footing and skied the penalty kick into Row W or thereabouts (“high, wide, and not very handsome” as they used to say). A Turkish defender, Alpay, began vehemently taunting Beckham. Although he has famously lost his composure on some occasions, Beckham seemed relatively unfazed this time. However, when the teams walked through the common tunnel to their respective dressing rooms at half time, a fight broke out. It’s not clear whether the fight ever surpassed the “handbags” level, although I’ve heard that 17-year old sensation Wayne Rooney (of my team, Everton) was involved, and Rooney has some training as a boxer. In any event, order was restored, and England obtained the required draw.
Trunk has now directed me to this BBC report that the English and Turkey Football Associations have been charged with improper conduct in connection with the “fracas.” Apparently, though, no individual players have been charged, which suggests to me that the whole thing really was handbags. The two Associations presumably will be fined, and that will be the end of it, except that Alpay, who plays for a team in England has been the subject of so much criticism that he will be leaving English football by mutual agreement with his team.
There is some soccer history between the fans (though not so much the teams) of England and Turkey. For example, a few years ago several Leeds United supporters were stabbed to death while in Turkey for a big match. English fans used to be known as Europe’s worst hooligans, but for sheer menance, the Turkish fans seem to have surpassed them. In world affairs, Turkey is viewed by the West rather benignly, at least in comparison to its neighbors. But soccer fans don’t see much of Turkey’s neighbors, and what they see of the Turks isn’t always pretty. In fact, I believe that many Turkish fans failed to respect the moment of silence for the victims of 9/ll. Such moments were immaculately observed throughout Europe (but would they be today?) except for Turkey and Greece, if memory serves.


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