Things the newspapers never tell you about football
Today was a first. The last football match I attended was North Ferriby United in the FA Vase with my father when I was 12. It rained. My father definitely didn’t sink more than three pints and anyone that says he did is mistaken.
I went to a girls school, so I fell in love with all the players. It’s a thing.
So I went up a few leagues to watch Ipswich Town versus Bristol City at Portman Road and it was a revelation. Here’s what I learned about football that the newspapers will never tell you.
ONE: the crowd was very diverse. All ages, lots of lasses, lots of children. Never keen on crowds, walking to the match in Ipswich was sort of fun. Like joining a rag-taggle tribe all intent on a common, sometimes futile, purpose. Not a swarm. Not a gang. Just supporters. No matter who you are, on match day, you belong.
TWO: just like at the cinema, at some point you will end up next to the naughty kids with loud sweets. In this case a group of about five young lads with a passion for bad chants (Mick McCartney! ITFC! [the manager’s name is Mick McCarthy]) and some very unimaginative gynaecological epithets. It didn’t matter. There weren’t any children nearby and it gave us a chuckle at half time.
THREE: get back from half time on time. Or you will miss the goal. Or GOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL as the @offical_itfc Twitter feed likes to announce it. Normally the Twitter feed is my source of news as the dog and I stay home and wear our scarves. The very rare occasion when Twitter is everyone’s friend.
FOUR: don’t stand up when a goal happens. You will get accidentally thumped in the head. Hard.
FIVE: also, if you sit behind the goal you may end up getting a stray ball in the head. This is fun. It would have stopped being fun if I was required to throw it back to the goalie (Dean Gerken, nice hair and beard combo). I throw like a girl. I am my own stereotype.
SIX: professional footballers are capable of showing moments of fortitude and elegance that the mass media will never tell you about. For every young lad who sets off fireworks in his kitchen or crashes their Lambo, or parks it in a disabled spot, there are hundreds who turn out in the cold, blasting heat and stinging rain, ignore the odds, set aside the armchair managers who know better and uphold the fan’s hopes regardless of injury, practicality and verbal ‘badinage’. Two examples….
“No matter who you are, on match day, you belong”
Setting the diminutive striker Freddy Sears against Bristol’s giant defender – 8ft surely – seems a little cruel. It reminded me of being asked to mark Fiona McCleod at school when we played netball. (More often than I would have liked.) I didn’t really try. Which is why I am not a professional netball player. As well as fitness levels, height and talent. Freddy did it anyway. However I can’t help but think that Ipswich shouldn’t have kicked it anywhere near Bristol’s very own Hodor He just kept doing the ‘Giant Jumpy Heady’ thing and putting it away. See how easy it is to think you know better?
The most sublime moment of the match wasn’t the goals that Ipswich snatched. It was when one of the Bristol players went down on knee to retie their goalie’s laces. Being clueless I wondered if this was some act of sweet devotion?
Finally this neophyte realised that the goalie’s gloves made this task impossible – jeez his hands must get sweaty. It was right on the touchline, so the feckless five had a lot to say about it.
Which is when the Bristol player looked up, slowly gave us a sly wink and then, task completed, swept a hand across his teammate’s boots for a final, “yeah lads, give it some welly cos I’m the one the pitch and you can keep dreaming” one-upmanship .
It was a moment of classy comeback. It was the opposite of all the flashy nonsense we get fed about footballers and their trashy lifestyles. It was, in a word, boss.
So is this the beautiful game? Mercurial and loud. Graceless and graceful. The moment when 21,000 and change Ipswich fans took an exhilarating intake of breath and you feel it as a motion in your gut, like wave against the shore? Are the guts and inglorious trophies what drives this band of brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, girlfriends and friends to make the pilgrimage? Probably.