Next Goal Wins revisits a time when soccer went inflatable crazy.
When Darren Bent scored for Sunderland against Liverpool with an assist from an inflatable beach ball, it was not the first time inflatables had hit the football headlines. Season 1988/89 will be best remembered as a season when taking an inflatable to football was all the rage.
Back in 1980s, football was in the doldrums. It had been a decade full of football disasters such as Heysel & Bradford. Riots were common place with a fan dying at a Birmingham v Leeds game and the Luton v Millwall game occupying the front pages as well as the back. All seater stadiums were a light year away and Margaret Thatcher, with her legendary hatred of the game, was trying to introduce football ID cards as one way of shutting down football. Football fans needed a release from this low ebb and it arrived in a strange form.
The origins of the craze can be traced back to the opening day of the preceding season. Frank Newton, a Man City fan, egged on by a toy collecting friend, took a 5 foot inflatable banana to the game. As it was a hot sunny August afternoon, rumour has it, he removed his City shirt and put it over the banana. City fans loved it and as Frank followed City round the country, the giant banana became more & more well known.
In November of that season, with City playing away at West Brom, fans were calling for substitute Imre Varadi. Before he could appear, the chant had quickly changed to that of Imre Banana. Frank’s banana now not only had a shirt, it had a face, a bobble hat and above all, a persona. Outlets selling the inflatable bananas appeared all over Manchester and by the end of the season, wherever City fans went so did their bananas.
The close season only served to heighten the craze and with Man City playing away at Hull City in the season opener, bananas were everywhere, although they had now been joined by other inflatables. Crocodiles, golf clubs, spitfires, were just some of the new blow-ups City fans took onto the terraces that day.
By October, City fans were surpassing themselves and at an away game at the Hawthorns, the inflatable’s in attendance ranged from a paddling pool, penguins, and sharks through to a giant Frankenstein monster & a giant Godzilla. To the delight of the fans, and with Frankenstein’s monster at one end of the terraces & Godzilla the other, they gradually met in the middle and in what was a highlight of an otherwise forgettable game (WBA won 1-0 for the record), they scrapped it out although no winner of the fight has been recorded. Come Christmas time even the players were joining in on the act, as on Boxing Day, away at Stoke, the City players arrived on the pitch each carrying a 5 ft inflatable banana which to the delight of the travelling fans they threw into the crowd.
Fun was coming back into football and fans of other clubs wanted to join the craze, inflatables were spreading fast. West Ham fans turned up with giant hammers, Brentford fans waved bees & Norwich fans predictably sported inflatable canaries. It did not stop there, if it could be blown up as an inflatable, it could be taken to footie. Other clubs adopted more bizarre inflatable’s, such as Stoke City fans waving Pink Panthers, Carlisle United fans snakes & Bournemouth fans bizarrely inflatable crayons. Bristol City fans waved giant teeth in recognition of their manager Joe Jordon having anything but perfect teeth & Bury fans, well they had black puddings. The final day of the season saw Walsall fans waving inflatable submarines, chanting “going down going down going down” an ironic way to end the season.
However just as quickly as the inflatable craze started, it ended. In April that season, English football was rocked by the Hillsborough disaster. Clubs were quick to try and ensure there were no health & safety issues and certain clubs immediately banned the inflatable’s. Come the opening day of 1989/90 season, you were hard pushed to find an inflatable anywhere on the terraces. What had been such fun the season before was now seen as a risk and the inflatable craze was condemned to memory. It would be nearly 20 years before inflatables hit the headlines again but for one season only, for those who remember it, it was full of inflatable fun.
Remember, next goal wins.
This weeks “Next Goal Wins” is dedicated to the memory of the 96 victims who lost their life at Hillsborough that season. RIP & JFT96