Manchester United have unveiled a statue of Sir Alex Ferguson this week, and while there’s no doubting the great man’s achievements, are there more fitting tributes to be made? Honouring club legends is a tricky business to get right, and should depend on the accomplishments and careers of each individual in order to have maximum effect.
Always made of banal bronze and notoriously difficult to perfect, a statue is the en vogue way to commemorate a legend. In Britain, 43 have been erected in honour of football folk this century, with every one of them nit-picked at immediately: nose too big, eyes too small, or in the case of former Southampton manager Ted Bates, legs laughably short. But even if the architect captures every wrinkle in his kit and bead of sweat on his brow, they only have an effect posthumously. Then, and only then, do statues capture the mystical eeriness of a once-great player or manager still amongst the crowds that used to sing his name. Who needs a statue of Fergie when the real thing is waiting inside the ground?
Ideal for: The most successful manager in a club’s history who is sadly no longer with us.
In many cases, retired shirt numbers have been reissued due to governing body rulings, or the fact they were only retired for a set period, and this puts pressure on the new incumbent. So the rule is – if a shirt is to be retired, retire it properly. Otherwise, a ‘you’re not fit to wear his shirt’ situation occurs, or in the case of the Argentinean FA in the lead up to the 2002 World Cup, is created intentionally: feeling that no player was worthy of El Diego, they didn’t issue a player with the number 10 shirt but ended up having to give it to Ariel Ortega when Fifa stepped in. The fallout? Ortega missed a penalty as Argentina went out in the first round. At Milan, Paolo Maldini has only given consent for his sons to take it up his number three shirt. That’s pressure, although Maldini offspring are bound to be pretty handy.
Ideal for: Players whose lives were tragically cut short. See Puerta, Stansfield, Foe.
Naming of a stand
If it’s a choice between, for example, Bournemouth’s Steve Fletcher Stand, or hypothetically, The Ginsters Pasty Terrace, then for a fan there’s no competition. Even if any old business is willing to throw millions in sponsorship at a club to tag their mark on all over the signage, they’re rarely popular. Towering stands named after giants of the club’s past packed with buoyant home faithful, is an intimidating site for away teams, and inspires home players to boot. The Bobby Moore stand, looking over the turf its namesake graced with such dignity at West Ham is a prime example. Clubs must be careful to make sure that named stands are full up with home supporters and not half empty with a smattering of sad looking away fans though, otherwise The Domestos End might be more appropriate.
Ideal for: A towering centre half who defended the very same end with grit and poise for decades.
A club only has one stadium, so they have to get this one right. There can’t be any dispute over who it’s named after. It must be, at the time of the naming, a club’s all time great – ideally a one-club-man who had more of an influence than simply what he did on the pitch. Examples include Santiago Bernabeu and Giuseppe Meazza (though he played for both Milan clubs), but not, though he’d disagree, Dave Whelan. There are two exceptions to this rule, the first being players who started out at small clubs who went on to flourish on the world stage, such as The Didier Drogba stadium at his first team Levallois. The second is for national stadiums named after a country’s footballing hero, like the Ference Puskas Stadium in Budapest or the Kazimierz Gorski Stadium in Warsaw. As long as it prevents the Jacamo Arena, most would be in favour.
Ideal for: A record goalscorer who’s gone on to bankroll his club’s climb through the league pyramid to the top level.
There’s a moment in the Bobby Moore documentary Hero, when Bobby’s wife Stephanie describes her disappointment at seeing England fans littering and urinating under the newly unveiled bridge at Wembley named in her husband’s honour. Incidental as their behaviour may have been, it illustrates how naming a bridge after someone can be ignored. Maybe they’re better reserved for those in the background, like at Arsenal, where bridges named after long-term directors Danny Fiszman and Ken Friar, who were behind the move to the Emirates, provide a grand yet modest throughway to the stadium.
Ideal for: Those whose achievements have been felt throughout the club, even if they’ve gone unnoticed to outsiders.
They’re essentially rooms where wags, journalists and hangers-on congregate to take advantage of free food and drink, but they can make fitting tributes to a particular player, or group of players. If a club feels only a statue/stand/stadium will do their all-time great justice, suites can be named after a famous back four, a cup winning team or a pair of tricky wingers. However, loyal supporters will rarely come into contact with them, and will probably refer to those that frequent them as the prawn sandwich brigade, so it doesn’t give them much fan accreditation.
Ideal for: A cup winning team, top five appearance-makers or cult-heroes.
How would you like to see your club honour your favourite players or manager? Pop it in the comments section below.
Joe Tyler is a journalist who enjoys football's finer details: Gilles Grimandi's hair, Sunday league goal nets, that sort of thing. He's written for Sabotage Times and Footy Matters. Find him on twitter here.