It’s a strange thing being a writer and a football fan. The two are supposed to be polar opposites: writing, reading, literature as a whole, is seen as a high form of art, something to revered, people who read are smart, they know things. Football fans, on the whole, are seen as the opposite: football is a thuggish game for thugs, and football fans are idiots who’d rather watch 22 men chase a ball around a field than they would expand their minds. Fucking savages.
Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m not an idiot. I am. That’s just a fact. But to say all football fans are is just a ridiculous generalisation. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good generalisation as much as the next person: unless it’s about me. That is where I draw the line. Empathy? Never heard of her mate, sorry.
I’ve been to many, many football matches in my life. My dad used to take me when I was a kid; we’d walk from his house to the stadium, me excited, him fairly indifferent (I’d learn years later he has little to no interest in football; I can’t decide if that gives the memories a tinge of regret, or if I love them even more so). The main topic of conversation would always be geography. Not like tides and erosion and climates and weather patterns and shit, but classic geography; where in the world (of the UK) do today’s opponents come from. That was always the first question I’d ask, because I was genuinely curious. We didn’t go to away games, only home, and it blew my mind how far people would travel to watch their team. I mostly go to away games now I’m an adult; the atmosphere is always ten times better, the camerarderie is something else. I go by myself, but whenever I arrive home my fiancée asks me if I made any friends, and the answer is inevitably yes.
You see, football is a great leveller. When you’re in the stands, you support your team, and that’s it. I recently went away to Barnsley to watch my beloved Hull City; there were 1500 of us in the away end, 1500 individual people with unique personalities and lives and hopes and dreams. But for two hours, between 3-5pm on that cold, dull Saturday afternoon, we were as one. For two hours, we became a homogeneous group, we took on a shared trait. For two hours we wanted nothing more than blood, and we wanted that blood to come from Barnsley. And then the final whistle goes, the stadium empties out, and we were 1500 individual people all over again. The spell that had been cast on us by the referees whistle had been taken away by the same, and we left as if waking from a dream. The people I made friends with I might see at another game, or I may never seen again. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that for two hours, we were warriors in the same army, fighting the same enemy.
The other great leveller that football provides is that it’s accessible to everyone. All you need is a ball and some space. It doesn’t even have to be a football, it can be anything vaguely round and kickable; I have no idea how true this is, but various people have told me the reason Brazil is so good at football is that because the country is generally so poor, children in the street can’t afford footballs, so play with discarded oranges and apples and other small, round fruits. It’s playing with these smaller “balls” that allows the Brazilians to master their ball control, to be able to do things so easily with a ball that the rest of us can barely imagine ourselves doing in our heads.
Take Raheem Sterling, for example, the bane of the daily mail. He grew up poor and black, and yet, simply by being naturally gifted, and then working his arse off, is now incredibly rich. He’s still black, but unlike the daily mail, most people don’t see that as a problem. Anyone can be a footballer, assuming they have the talent, provided they work hard. It’s not like Formula 1, where you have to spend tonnes of money racing karts and stuff, or other sports like squash or badminton that require specific equipment, and specific courts. You can kick a rock around a 2 feet squared yard of concrete, and it’s football. You can kick an empty coke can down the road as you walk home from school, and it’s football. I kick a tennis ball around the kitchen for my dog to chase; little does she know it, I’ve got her playing football.
I’m not ashamed to be a football fan, not by a long shot. I’m not ashamed of anything to be honest, depression and regular apathy will do that to a man, but I’m particularly unashamed about liking football. I do; what of it? I support Hull City, my local team from the city I was born and raised in. I’d be lying if I said I enjoy supporting Hull; we’re fucking shit, and watching is more often than not a chore. But I still do it.
I’m not going to sit here and rehash the jaded football-as-religion metaphor. For one thing, football actually exists, you can see it and measure it and record it and prove it. I’m not going to give you the Bill Shankly “some people say football is a matter of life and death but they’re wrong, it’s much more important than that.” I will just say this: it takes a strange kind of passion to drag your arse out of bed at 8 on a Sunday morning, schlep your way onto a train and travel to Middlesbrough, all the while reading Dracula not because it’s homework or something, but because you actually want to.
I am that strange passion. I am that man. This isn’t what makes me an idiot, but it doesn’t do anything to reduce that notion. Particularly as I was going to write about the football I went to this weekend (Guisley 0-2 Hereford), and this is what came out instead.
I’ve sat here and typed out over 1,000 words, and for literally no reason. This chapter has been pointless. I hate you all.