Having looked at some of the things which had long lifespans at the football, it’s time now to look at a fad. Something which disappeared just as quickly as it began, only to make the occasional comeback when present day supporters are trying for a blast from the past or some post-modern humour. And that fad is inflatables.
Looking back, the 1980’s will never be remembered for it’s taste. Fashions and haircuts were things to be forgotten. You just have to look at some of the new romantics that used to work in the local newsagents and frozen food shops around Levenmouth during the decade or have a look at any of Paul Galloway’s photos from his younger days.
The 1980’s saw a series of various fads. Things which seemed hilarious, the height of fashion and a good idea at the time. Like “Frankie Says Relax” t-shirts, bringing inflatables to the football was one of those things.
The whole inflatable craze was never as huge in Scotland it seemed as it was in England, but it did certainly arrive here. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, you’re left asking “what was that all about?”!
The inflatable craze is credited to have begun at Maine Road in 1987 when a Man City fan took an inflatable banana to a game for no real reason it seems other than to get it photographed there to show a mate.
The banana then gained a shirt, a face and a personality and became very popular. To be fair though there wasn’t exactly a lot on the pitch to excite the City fans back then.
More inflatable bananas were acquired by City fans and brought to the games and City player Imre Varadi got christened Imre Banana – some of that famous Manc wit we always hear about.
And so a fan craze was born and boy did it grow out of all control.
Soon, fans of all clubs thought it was great fun to bring inflatables to games. Some fans decided it was a chance to have their own club identity reinforced by adopting particular blow ups as their own.
So you had West Ham fans with inflatable Hammers, Grimsby fans were known for their inflatable fish and in Scotland, Raith Rovers fans were just pleased to have the chance to take their girlfriends out for the afternoon.
If it was available as a blow up, it was seen at matches. Sheep, dogs, parrots, even crocodiles added some bite to proceedings. It was the height of the fanzine boom and those, along with fanzine style TV shows like Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football, brought the whole blow up phenomenon to the masses and let them be seen in all their glory.
But before you could say puncture kit, the political correctness police moved in, waving their inflatable truncheons no doubt.
There were health and safety issues cited (you could take someone’s eye out with that was the cry, they’re a weapon to hit opposing fans with others would say). People’s views were being blocked by the mass of inflatables on display. And worst of all, some deemed the bananas to have racist overtones. It really had all gone crazy.
The result was that many clubs and police forces banned them, Arsenal being one of the leaders in this campaign if I remember correctly. The inflatable frenzy soon died down and what started as harmless, if somewhat pointless, fun was over and the sound of deflation was heard all across the UK. Who would want to see football supporters having fun after all. Much better that they were at each others throats in the grounds and surrounding streets.
The whole inflatable epidemic never really made it’s mark at Bayview but that’s not to say that East Fife fans didn’t join in the fun altogether. July 1994 and East Fife were down in Darlington for some pre season action and a large contingent of Alex Totten’s Barmy Army made the trip down. With some time to kill before kick off, a few of us wandered the streets of Darlo and the market stalls that were set up. Minutes later and the stall with all the inflatable hammers was cleaned out!
That day the novelty of them wore off pretty quickly, or perhaps that was just the alcohol. It must have happened like this throughout the country, although some small pockets still produce them to this very day.
The last time I can remember taking an inflatable to the football was on the last day of the 1999/2000 season at Boghead. With East Fife looking for promotion and myself armed with hope, optimism and an inflatable champagne bottle with “EFFC #1” written on it in black marker pen, I’m not sure what deflated faster that day – our promotion hopes or the bottle.
There’s nothing sadder than standing sad and forlorn with a limp bit of latex in your hand.
In Canada, it was pleasing to see some inflatables at a Vancouver Whitecaps game at home to Toronto FC in 2009, with a selection of blow up dolls in red shirts resplendent in the Southside as a nod to TFC’s many “plastic” fans. They even raised a laugh on TV.
Maybe we can rekindle the craze at Bayview or maybe they’ll just stay part of the disappearing world of football.