As I sit experiencing the excitement and drama that is the shuffle setting on my iPod, I find myself being serenaded by the dulcet tones of John Barnes rapping away during World In Motion by New Order (englandneworder to the purists). A nice tune that stirs some memories of Italia ’90, David Platt’s last gasp winner, Chris Waddle’s disappearing mullet and some bloke from Cameroon kicking Claudio Caniggia halfway back to Argentina. Sadly there is no football tournament this year and despite the Premier League seemingly ending about 6 weeks later than usual, August and the chance to watch my beloved Oxford United seem a long way off. So with my season ticket finally purchased and with my money probably already making its way down the drain, I think back to last season and some of the highlights. However I fail to come up with anything other than one of our players trying to do to Edgar Davids what the Cameroon player had done to Caniggia.
One match does spring to mind, although I would hesitate to call it a highlight. On a surprisingly wintery Saturday afternoon in late March I stood in sub zero temperatures, with wet feet and hard nipples, being showered with snow and presumably spit from the ludicrously angry man behind me, watching my beloved Oxford United put in a rather pitiful display against a not-much-better Northampton Town. I watched as the final nail in the coffin of our season was being hammered in with the help of some woeful finishing by our strikers and I despaired as the midfield proved to be as creative as pissing in said snow. All of the above and the 1-0 defeat are a fairly common occurrence here, as are the repetitive and nonsensical interview with our hapless and hopeless manager Chris ‘I wouldn’t know a decent midfielder if one sat on my face’ Wilder. After the extremely welcome final whistle blew, we squelched back to the car with our lips chapped and our blains chilled and removed our slush sodden boots. We listened to the interview and shouted the same thing we had been shouting all season, mostly containing the words ‘twat’, ’useless’ and ‘fuck off, you’. ‘I don’t know what else to do’, came the sack worthy excuse from a man finally admitting what some of us had figured out months ago. Half an hour after reaching the car, we finally made it out of the car park that we had paid £4 for (I know, the cheeky bastards) and headed home along the roundabout riddled A43.
You might look at that and think ‘that sounds like a fairly crap day, no wonder she’s moaning.’ But actually I’m not. That’s just how the day went, football fans simply accept that this happens to them. We don’t stop going because there’s a good chance we might lose, we keep going because there is just as good a chance we might win. Well, maybe not just as good, but you never really know what is going to happen, it’s a risk we are happy to take. We don’t mind the weather or the wait in the car park or the lack of decent toilet facilities (yes Swindon Town, I’m looking at you). It all adds to the experience and we will happily drive hundreds of miles for the pleasure of it. I love it when people say things like ‘can’t believe you went all that way to watch them lose’. No, I went all that way to watch them play, I didn’t know they were going to lose, did I? Several years ago we won a home game 1-0 with the goal coming in the first minute and a colleague of mine decided that it must have been a dull match because it was all over after 60 seconds. That train of thought mystifies me in the same way as people who assume that 0-0 draws are always dull. You don’t know that’s going to be the final score until the whistle goes! I try to explain the beauty of unpredictability to her, but then you realise you are talking to someone who probably spent the previous evening crying over some soap storyline they read was going to happen weeks ago.
It always amazes me that people have no problem in quite aggressively expressing their hatred and lack of interest in football, more so than any other past time. It never seems to occur to them how rude or insulting they are being. They almost proudly announce that they have no understanding of the actually-quite-simple offside rule and then if you try to explain it they say ‘no don’t tell me, I don’t want to know’. Well that’s probably why you don’t understand it then. They are quite happy in their ignorance and lack of interest in something that might actually be quite important to their partner or friend or relative. I’d like to think that if someone has a real passion for a subject, that I will be decent and polite enough to let them talk about it or explain to me why it gripped them so much. I would never be so rude as to just say to them ‘no, I’m not interested, don’t talk to me about it’, even if I wasn’t that interested in it. How sad that people can’t have any respect for something that people spend so much time and money on, that stirs such a passion in them, can reduce them to tears and send them in to a state of ecstasy in the space of minutes. How sad that people can only focus on the negative aspects and not consider that actually this is quite an important part of life for some. I asked another football sceptic friend of mine once how many moments she had had in her life that made her literally jump up and down with sheer excitement and shout at the top of her voice in the way a football fan will when their team hit the back of the net. She could think of 3. I’ve had hundreds (should have had more admittedly but there you go) Why is something that makes you feel that way frowned upon so much, what harm does it do to anyone else? We do all realise that it’s not a matter of life and death despite Bill Shankly’s legendary and fairly ridiculous speech, it’s just a past time we enjoy and the majority of us manage to enjoy it without smashing in the faces of the opposing fans as well. As a supporter of a lower league team, I often wonder what drives the fans of clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea who expect to win every game. How can they understand the joy of standing with a couple of hundred other fans on a freezing cold evening, watching your team grind out a win against Kidderminster Harriers , or the feeling of not being able to sleep because you are still buzzing so much from knocking a team three leagues above you out of the cup. Where’s the joy for those fans in beating teams like Wigan and Reading week in, week out? That’s what they’re expected to do.
So as we trudged away from the Sixfields stadium, my brother and I chatted about the game at Swindon in August 2011 which was surely the ying to this games yang. A gloriously sunny day, our skin burning in the uncovered terrace, two beautiful goals from the rather marvellous James Constable sealing our first win at the County Ground (do your own graffiti there) for 28 years. As a game it was as close to perfection as you can get, but now felt like another lifetime. As the song from the terrace goes, I’m sure we’ll win again some sunny day.