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Keith the duck

Keith the duck

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A minute’s applause rang out at Wigan last weekend for a dead duck called Keith. What does it tell us about who gets commemorated at football matches and why?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story, every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, I have to be honest, it’s a really difficult one to make sense of – it’s the story of a dead duck, a minute’s applause, and why we commemorate the things we commemorate in football.

It’s half-time between Wigan and Portsmouth last Saturday at the DW Stadium. 

There’s a smattering of applause, the odd chuckle, and the stadium announcer explaining that there’s been a slight mix-up.

The big screen in the stadium is displaying a message, saying “Rest in Peace, Keith the duck.”

Let’s rewind to the Thursday before.

A Wigan fan called Daryl Ravden came home to find that his duck had died in his garden. A duck called Keith. 

Daryl wrote on his Facebook: “Absolutely devastated. Came home from work and Keith has died. No marks or anything round him, just stiff in corner of garden. RIP Keith”, followed by a series of duck emojis.  

Some Wigan fans offered their condolences, but most importantly it was this moment that sparked a monumental case of mistaken identity.

Word went around Wigan fans’ WhatsApp groups that “Keith had died”.

And some fans took it to mean another Keith – Wigan fan, Keith Valentine. 

Keith Valentine is currently battling lung cancer, and he’s well-known to Wigan fans because he follows the Latics home and away.

You can probably see where this is going. Condolences started flying around on social media – and Keith Valentine had to announce that, actually, he was still alive and kicking.

He wrote on his Facebook: 

“I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone for all your messages of sympathy and condolences, it’s nice to know just how much you all miss me. But I can reassure you all that I’ve not popped my clogs just yet and my fight against lung cancer continues. I must be the first person in history to get their messages of sympathy before I’ve even died. I blame Daryl Ravden, only he could have a pet duck called Keith. Cheers everyone.”

That message, coupled with the fact that Keith Valentine and Daryl Ravden know each other, was picked up by Wigan Athletic, who got hold of Daryl to say that they’d still like to give Keith the duck a bit of a send off, so they wanted to put his picture up at half-time on the big screen for that weekend’s game. 

Which is how we came to the start of this story.

Pictures of the mistaken identity went viral, it was a bit of fun that everyone was in on come the end of it, but it does beg the question – in football, why do we commemorate what we commemorate, and who gets to choose?

If you’ve grown up throughout the Nineties, minute’s silences or minute’s applauses are pretty commonplace at football stadiums. 

A handful of times a season there’ll be an event, or the passing of someone of note, that gets you up on your feet, pre-match, with the players around the centre circle, shoulder to shoulder, as a mark of respect to someone who has passed away.

But it hasn’t always been like this. In fact, the move to commemorate people who’ve passed away became much more commonplace post-2000.

In 2008 the journalist Andy McSmith described the sudden increase in commemorations as “silence inflation”.

In 2011, an article in the Economist magazine criticised the prevalence of silences, saying: “…it felt as if every fixture was preceded by players standing around the centre circle, heads bowed, remembering the death of ever more obscure players.”

And in 2012 an academic research paper on the subject suggested that this kind of “silence inflation” had the potential to devalue the importance of remembering those closely associated with clubs.

That’s Fiorentina fans remembering Davide Astori – their former captain who died from a heart attack in 2018 in a hotel room before a match.

At every game, Fiorentina fans clap throughout the 13th minute – 13 was Astori’s number – and usually sing his name, too.

A similar thing happens at Espanyol – their fans applaud every home game for their former captain Dani Jarque, who died in 2009.

There is, of course, a place for remembrance in football.

Last season I was fortunate enough to be at games where, due to Covid restrictions, there were only a handful of non-playing staff allowed inside stadiums. Clubs still had minute’s applause for those who had passed away, and inside those empty stadiums, the commemoration did have that haunting, respectful reverence to it. 

We may now live in a time of “silence inflation”. 

But for many clubs, and many people, remembering individuals is an important part of the collective consciousness of a football club and its fans. 

It may have been a wild case of mistaken identity, but there’s more than meets the eye to the Keith the duck story. It raises some important questions.

How do we pick who’s deserving of an act of remembrance in football? Who gets to choose? And what’s the most appropriate way of commemorating those who’ve passed away?

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler and produced by Klong.