YOU know what? Britain may be in financial meltdown, and our MPs may be sucking us dry to clean their moats and pay for their partners’ pornography viewing. Getting caught in the same part of town as a protest march may now be a matter of life and death, and it may now be possible to get jailed for up to 10 years for taking a photograph of a police officer. And there may soon be only three jobs left in the whole country.
But we are British, and we are proud. And that means that, even when times are tough, we fight to the end for a footballer’s right to run through a Dorset town wearing only his underpants.
Step forward Jamie Holland, striker and assistant manager of Swanage Town and Herston FC. (That sounds like he plays for two teams. He doesn’t. It’s all one club.)
At the start of the season, Holland was confident that he would finish up as Swanage’s top scorer. So confident, that he told team-mate Aaron Corby that he would strip to his underwear and sprint through the town if he failed.
Well, he did fail. And so he was ordered to honour the bet. He readily agreed to do so. But he wasn’t allowed to by Dorset police. And the result, courtesy of the Bournemouth Daily Echo, is perhaps the greatest headline in newspaper history:
According to the Echo: “The manager and his squad were planning to accompany Mr Holland and use the opportunity to raise the profile of the club in the community.”
I would love to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation. I imagine a committee, sitting around a table in the clubhouse, debating ways to increase attendances.
Committee member 1: We could drop admission prices.
Committee member 2: No, we could hardly make it any cheaper. How about signing Kaka?
Committee member 3: Ooh, I’m not sure he’d come.
CM 2: But he doesn’t need the money, so that’s not an issue. We could sign him as an ambassador for Swanage.
CM 1: And for Herston, too. Don’t forget Herston.
CM 2: Oh yes, and Herston.
CM 3: I’m not sure. Ah, I’ve got it: we could get Jamie Holland to run through the town in his underpants.
CM 1: That’s a much better idea. Let’s do that.
CM 2: Couldn’t we get Kaka to do it?
However the idea came about, it was on. But then the police told Holland not to go ahead with the stunt, in case it got out of hand. “It is political correctness gone mad,” claimed Swanage manager Jason Phillips. It is, Jason. I remember the good old days, when a man could run through a seaside town in his pants without anyone batting an eyelid. Indeed, wasn’t that how the England squad celebrated their 1966 World Cup win? What do you mean, no?
Inspector Chris Weeks of Dorset police explained the reasoning behind the refusal, saying: “A Police Community Support Officer with the Swanage Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke with the club.
“He explained that good natured events of this type have the potential of getting out of hand and he advised the club the runner should wear shorts.”
I’m now trying to imagine how this conversation might have come about. In my head, it went as follows:
Fictional police officer: Hello, Dorset police.
Imaginary Swanage official: Hello, it’s Swanage Town and Herston FC here.
FPO: And which one are you, sir? Swanage or Herston?
ISO: Er, both. Can you put me through to the Swanage Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Team, please?
FPO: What’s it regarding, sir?
ISO: It’s regarding a pants-only run through the town centre.
FPO: One second, sir. I’ll put you through.
(Bossa nova Casio keyboard instrumental version of You Are The Sunshine Of My Life plays down phone as call is transferred.)
Same fictional police officer as before, but now putting on a slightly deeper voice: Hello, Swanage Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood team.
ISO: Hello, it’s Swanage Town and Herston FC here.
FPO: OK, and which one are you, sir? Swanage or Herston?
ISO: Er, both.
FPO: I see. Well I’m afraid we don’t have conference call facilities here, sir.
ISO: No, no. That’s fine. I’m calling because our striker –
FPO: So which one is it to be, sir?
ISO: I’m sorry?
FPO: Shall I put you down as Swanage, or shall I put you down as Herston?
ISO: Erm, Swanage.
FPO: Not Herston?
ISO: No, Swanage is fine. I’m calling because our striker –
FPO: The people of Herston get very upset about that kind of thing, sir. Are you absolutely sure?
ISO: Yes. Now I’m calling because our striker Jamie Holland lost a bet that he would finish the season as our top scorer, and the punishment is that he has to run through the town in his underpants. I just wanted to check that was OK with you.
FPO: I’m afraid not, sir.
ISO: Why not?
FPO: Well, it could get out of hand, sir.
ISO: What could get out of hand?
FPO: One man running through the town in his underpants is all very well, but what if he’s a terrorist threat, sir? He might be carrying explosives.
ISO: In his underpants?
FPO: You can’t be too careful, sir. There’s been many a jolly jape which has ended up with a man carrying explosives inside his underpants.
ISO: This is political correctness gone mad!
FPO: I really wish you could come up with a more original way of describing the situation, sir.
Of course, the above conversation didn’t happen. I made it up. And I’m sure that Dorset police’s concerns about things getting out of hand were entirely genuine.
So all I’m going to say on the matter is that, at a time when so many depressing things are happening in this country, the story thoroughly cheered me up. Thanks to everyone involved.