Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Yes Sir, No Sir...

Great Britain is a funny old place. We have a head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who, when her mood takes her, gives a knighthood to a small selection of people born within her Commonwealth.

In modern-day terms, being made a Knight is a sign that you have achieved something extra-special - that you have done something few other people have done to elevate the stature of the Queen's realm.

If you're a male and you've been given a knighthood, you're allowed to put the word 'Sir' in front of your name, like 'Sir Paul McCartney', 'Sir Elton John' or 'Sir Robbie Williams'. (OK, so that last one was made up...) It's therefore a title that demands great respect among those people that know you or know of you, but you don't have to be alive to qualify for one. If you're unfortunate enough to have died at any given time in the past, those that survive you can apply for a posthumous title to be decreed as a belated way of showing how important you were to Queen and Country.

And it's exactly that process which is capturing the imagination of a few large pockets of football fans in Britain as we speak. It all started a few years ago when a bunch of Tottenham Hotspur supporters began a campaign to get an honorary knighthood awarded to Bill Nicholson, Tottenham's manager between 1958 and 1974.

Nicholson's achievements at the North London club are many. He helped them win the FA Cup three times, the League Championship once, the European Cup Winners' Cup once and the UEFA Cup once and also re-wrote the record books as Spurs became the first team of the modern era to win the English 'double' of FA Cup and League in one season in 1961.

It was arguably the greatest period in Spurs' history, and yet despite a long campaign to make him 'Sir Bill Nicholson' posthumously, its objective is yet to be reached. Knighthoods, it seems, are not so easy to come by.

Despite such a frustrating trend being set by this exercise, two more campaigns have begun recently to give other iconic British football managers from the past their rightful place in British history.

Bob Paisley led Liverpool football club for nine years from 1974 and in that time steered them to six League titles, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup, one European Super Cup and most significantly of all, three European Cups. Many British MPs have signed a House of Commons motion to gain Paisley a knighthood eleven years after his death, and a government e-petition has seen almost 45,000 members of the public support them in a similar vein.

North of the border, Jock Stein, the man who helped Celtic become the first British team to win the European Cup in 1967, is also being recommended for the same honour by two Labour MPs. As well as the European Cup, Jock Stein's Celtic side also won ten Scottish league titles, nine Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups, but are his achievements likely to be overlooked just as Bill Nicholson's have been thus far? Will fans of Bob Paisley become the latest in a long line of disappointed football fans who just want to repay the happiness their idol gave them so many years ago?

And as another government e-petition is launched to gain Brian Clough, European Cup-winning manager of Nottingham Forest, a posthumous knighthood, are campaigns like this being cheapened by their sheer proliferation?

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was awarded a knighthood thanks to the abundance of silverware he brought to the club, including one European Cup, one European Cup Winners' Cup, eight FA Premiership titles and five FA Cups. Maybe it takes this much to earn a football manager in Britain a knighthood, but why not treat each club and their successes in proportion accordingly?

The answer: there'd be a tidal wave of petitions flying around from supporters everywhere asking for their hero to be given the royal seal of approval, and that's simply counter-productive whichever way you look at it.

There is, however, another way - another method that can be used to ensure the managerial greats from your team's history are locked in the hearts and the minds of its fans forever.

We're not talking about entry into a football Hall of Fame. We're not talking about a bronze statue outside your team's stadium.

All you need to do is to tell your children about the Paisleys, the Steins, the Nicholsons and the Cloughs that your team played under, and if you have no children, tell somebody else's children. Tell them about the joy they gave you and the way your team played when they were in charge. Tell them how much of a difference they made to your team and the transformation they brought about while they were there.

Those children will grow up with a great respect for the icons you enthused about, and they'll go on to tell their children and their children's children. Legends don't have to be knighted, just remembered, so forget signing petitions - just keep their memory alive when you support your team.

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