“This is what is so wrong with football now”.
“I know it’s a cliché but those monstrosities have no place in football”.
What phenomenon could have given rise to comments such as these? Well it’s the half-and-half scarf, and specifically it was this photograph, shared on Twitter by respected football writer Henry Winter, that prompted those reactions.
It wasn’t just Winter’s tale that had people decrying these seemingly harmless but largely reviled addition to the football landscape. No, BBC Radio Five Live’s coverage made mention of them also. The presenters and guests weren’t outright in condemning them, but the tone of their broadcast was that they were an unwelcome presence on the merchandise stalls outside Old Trafford ahead of the derby match.
I do imagine that football’s tribalism is largely responsible; you’re either on one side, or the other, goes the argument, and if you do happen to be a neutral why would you wear any colours at all, let alone 50% for either side?
The half-and-half scarf in the guise of an ‘event’ item, as a piece of memorabilia for a particular fixture, is probably a reflection of the Premier League’s global appeal. Fans travel from all over the world to experience the excitement of the Premier League and want to be able to take home a souvenir that says “I was there”. The half-and-half scarf, bearing the names of both teams, the date and the venue, is an alternative to the match programme as a souvenir and, at the risk of your anger, I have to say “is there anything wrong with that?”
If there wasn’t a market for these items the merchandisers who sell them wouldn’t be there with them, week after week. The fact that they are there, and that each week buyers can be found, willingly parting with their cash, proves that they are selling something that people want. Not all people want them, but some do.
As for fans who point to this as a symbol of the gentrification of the game, of it being marketed on different values to those they perhaps grew up with, the answer surely has to be that the world of football has changed. Fans can’t have it both ways; The money from Sky TV and BT Sport enables clubs to buy some of the most expensive talent in the world and display it in our stadiums for our enjoyment. The Premier League is marketed world-wide; I watched an FA Cup semi-final in an Indonesian hotel and then found myself discussing it the next day with an Indonesian tour guide, who knew and adored English football, who knew the names of the Manchester United team, who couldn’t wait to talk about the match. Selling our domestic football as being ‘the most exciting league in the world’ inevitably creates an interest and opens up new markets. Those new markets and the fans from far-flung corners of the globe want a little piece of our game, and if that takes the form of a half-and-half scarf by which to mark their visit then so be it.
It’s unfair to criticise the football tourists who buy half-and-half scarves, or the people who sell them. They’re just trying to make a living the way the majority of us are. It might be more accurate to be annoyed with Rupert Murdoch and Sky, or with BT Sport. Neither would be able to pour billions into football if there wasn’t a market for it, and its fans who make up their customer base. It’s also likely that amongst those same fans, who pay for their subscriptions each month, are the same fans who take to social media or radio phone-ins to complain about people buying and selling half-and-half scarves. I’d suggest their annoyance may be misdirected, but the chances of them recognising that they may have contributed to the PL ‘going global’ and attracting the football tourist is about as likely as them being found wearing a half-and-half scarf.