“A minute’s silence inside a packed and excitable stadium is still an unbearably potent memento mori” insists the Guardian’s Barney Ronay, no doubt as confused as anyone else over the age of 12 by a decision to honor the late Sir Bobby Robson with a minute’s applause prior to Sunday’s Community Shield match between Chelsea and Manchester United.
This hasn’t come completely out of the blue. The minute’s applause has long been the custom in Italy, although there it tends to start with silence and build to a peak level of applause from about halfway through. British observers had often commented that this seemed a warmer, more celebratory tribute. So applause began to creep in here, albeit not without resistance. Last Armistice Day some war veterans were upset that Scottish clubs were offered the choice between silence and applause to mark the occasion. Similarly, in January last year, Manchester United stood fast against urgings to honour the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash with applause, rather than old-fashioned silence, during the derby match against Manchester City.
Which offers a hint as to why the applause-mongers have increasingly held sway. The fact is, football has often struggled to keep its mouth shut, its minutes of silence breached by partisan yelp or parade-raining obscenity. The minute was already being cut to 30 seconds. So clapping appears to offer a deeply English solution. Never mind all the warm, celebratory, vaguely Mediterranean stuff. The minute’s applause is also a way of avoiding not just an uncomfortable silence, but a minor social embarrassment too.