Is there a more tedious sporting micro-economy than the debate over whether a minute's silence should or should not be held at some venue for someone? Little more than a surefire way for the back pages to involve themselves in the events of the front ones, this endlessly dull 'row' breaks out with ever more frequency these days. Its latest incarnation has seen the Premier League and the Football Association let it be known that they will not be asking clubs to hold a minute's silence for Margaret Thatcher this weekend – a move which has distilled both their misplaced sense of self-importance and the increasingly hilarious pretence that people see them as guardians of anything other than revenue streams and their own skins.
That, of course, will not be the end of it. According to the conventions of Confected Football Filler, there is an established way of doing these things. Professional takers and givers of offence – mostly the media, obviously – scramble to whip up sentiment for and against the idea. Within hours, it officially becomes "the issue that has got everyone talking", which is to say that it really and truly isn't. I might have changed my mind come November, but I think I find non-footballing silences at games even more infuriatingly witless than the wretched annual Premier League poppy debate.
It is the most bovine sort of me-tooism, this idea that football's blazers must institute policies and protocols for dealing with notable deaths, as though they were key players in events vastly bigger than themselves. Those who giggled at the parochialism of the Worcester News's much-tweeted splash on Thatcher's death – "How Worcester Melted the Iron Lady's Heart" – should be apoplectic with laughter at this, conducted on so much larger a scale. Happy to hear from Mikhail Gorbachev; less bothered about Richard Scudamore.
This opinion may well be unfashionable. After all, it is a key tenet of the Premier League Patriot Act that all of human existence must be filtered through association football in order for us to make any sense of it. Furthermore, no event can be truly said to have "happened" in any real sense unless the manner in which it might affect or reflect football has not been exhaustively explored. Reading Jeff Powell's Maggie tribute in the Mail, in which we learned that Jeff was among the "one or two of us" who persuaded Thatcher to take the course she did to save football, it almost felt as if the game's refusal to recognise the former PM with a silent tribute would prevent her soul gaining passage across the River Styx. But just imagine if it honestly didn't matter one iota either way.
Alas, so many people appear to have to believe it does, just like the poppy thing or whether a player sings the national anthem or the cod tradition of the pre-game handshake. What on earth is a pre-game handshake anyway? In footage of yore (about 10 years ago), people shook hands after a set-to to show that there were no hard feelings. It was a matter of choice, and therefore meaningful. Mandated handshakery is a construct of the Premier League's marketing department, invented in 2004. The Premier League handshake's spiritual analogue is the one that used to take place at the start of WWE "matches"; sporto-parodic pieces of entertainment that were consciously built on storylines. The affectation of insisting upon one at the start of every game only serves to underscore how much of modern top-flight football has become dependent on extra-pitch plotlines.
As for football's role in statecraft, it's funny how you never see the military displays that grace the FA Cup or League Cup being replicated in the Premier League. At those former fixtures, as Martin Samuel noted last year, it is commonplace to see a flypast, or servicemen and women parachuting in to the stadium. But not at games in the Greatest League in the World™ – and any fool can see why. In many of the Premier League's international markets, displays of British military pride and/or might are not really moneyspinners. If they were, you can be sure we'd see the exhibition of military hardware and martial patriotism that are such an unappealing bolt-on to bigtime US sports, where the athletic industrial complex has even seen ESPN's flagship show broadcast from a camo-net festooned set located in a US military base in Kuwait. As one of the pundits put it of this self-styled support for the troops: "It was the least we could do".
Couldn't agree more, old bean. Yet so effective have been the efforts of football's decency industry that it has become almost blasphemous to question their machinations. It may very well have been illegal to even smile at The Fiver's joke that Liverpool would be permanently incorporating the black armband into their strip. Come my revolution (and it won't), we'd ban all minutes of silence and allow fans to formulate their own respects via the medium of chants or private contemplation. For every loss – the formalised chance to pay respects to a much-loved former servant of the club, for instance – there would be 10 gains in the form of facile and irrelevant "debates" about respect and this week's definition of decency that we simply wouldn't have to have ever again.