Much has been written of tomorrow’s match between Arsenal and Manchester United. As the Gunners welcome the newly-crowned Premier League champions to the Emirates, the concept of the guard of honour has never been more closely analysed.
But here’s the truth. It doesn’t matter.
Eleven men clapping another eleven men on to the pitch is a bane for one group and a moment of pride for the other. But it will be forgotten the moment it is done; for the players at least.
Teams have grown used to such moments of hollow sentiment and tradition. It is something to be done and quickly moved away from.
As much as it may not seem like it, tomorrow’s guard of honour will be as swiftly forgotten as a pre-match handshake.
It will not be a motivating factor in Arsenal’s attempts to win the league next season. They will not look back on the moment they clapped United on to the pitch and think, I would love that to be me next season.
They will look at the trophy celebrations a week later, the elation on the United player’s faces, not the awkward looks as they acknowledge the coldest of warm welcomes tomorrow afternoon.
For the fans it will last longer.
Even in a sport where there is always another chance for retribution or regret just a few days away, we linger on moments both good and bad.
As much as football is about winning and losing, it is also about revelling in that success, or quietly reflecting on what went wrong.
But talk of Arsenal fans turning their backs on United’s arrival is pointless. As is the reluctance to welcome Robin van Persie back as the champion he never was at Arsenal.
This is what happens in football. It is what has always happened and will continue to. Fans shouldn’t pick and choose when to honour its traditions and when to ignore them.
Turning your back on something you do not wish to see doesn’t make it any less so. And forgetting everything good that van Persie did in his time at Arsenal is a narrow-minded form of amnesia.
No one likes applauding the successes of others. It reminds us all of our own limitations.
But to stand tall in the face of that, to do what has to be done and then move on – that is the spirit that forges future champions.
So just as men shake hands when they do not mean it, so they will do what they must tomorrow.
One day Arsenal will hope to be champions. They will have players tomorrow who are more than capable of doing just that.
Both their players and their fans should do this simple and meaningless thing. And if it really means that much to them, maybe they will ensure it doesn’t happen again.
What are your thoughts on the guard of honour?
image: © wonker