Posted by Richard Rawlinson
The late Tony Benn and I share in common Bristol City FC, a team in League One, the third tier of the English football league system. Known as the Robins due to their red home strip, I came late to their fan-base as a part-time resident of Clifton, whereas Benn supported the team during 50 years as a Bristol MP.
In the first game since Benn’s death, the Robins drew 0-0 against Swindon at Ashton Park, the grounds in the shadow of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Earlier this month, a terminally ill fan was allowed to meet the team in the dressing room before they played against Gillingham. Mark Saunders, 54, with days to live due to lung cancer, berated the squad for their recent lacklustre performance, which has left them under threat of relegation. His dying wish was they’d reverse their fortunes. They went on to win 2-1.
Both Saunders and Benn would no doubt recall more dramatic ups and downs over the years. Between 1980-82, the Robins had a staggering three relegations, and were declared bankrupt. Benn’s Old Labour was in trouble, too.
But such is humankind’s indomitable spirit of optimism, we keep the faith: that our team will regain its mojo; our party will rediscover its principles; our religion will be guided by truth; our estranged loved ones will return to the fold; and that we ourselves will do better.
Gods, saints, angels and ancestors are called upon to guide us through life’s successes and failures. Their symbols and rituals, from crucifix to family crest, aid this dialogue. In football, fans like to touch the mascot for luck, Bristol City’s being a man dressed up in a cartoon robin suit.
This leads me to a subject of great import. Bristol City FC changed its badge from the red robin to the City of Bristol’s official crest: unicorns mounting a shield depicting a ship. Ditch the friggin’-in-the-riggin’ slave galleon and bring back the robin, please.
Legend has it this beautiful little bird has a red breast after he chirped into the ear of Christ in order to comfort Him while suffering on the Cross. The robin’s breast has ever since proudly borne the stains of the Lord’s salvic blood.
On the all-too infrequent occasions when Bristol City players show bird-like agility and ‘bounce’, supporters sing, ‘Red robins bounce around the ground’ to the tune of thye Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, while themselves bouncing up and down continually in the stands.
Chants, rituals and symbols. Angels and even mascots. They’re all signs of man’s wonderful reliance on things other than pure reason.