I know this might seem odd to some, but believe it or not, there are people who don’t actually follow football. To them, it’s simply a game awash with obscene amounts of money which is played by morons and watched by fools.
To be fair, that’s a pretty close summary of things at certain clubs but it misses the point. Being a football fan isn’t just about watching great football, in some instances it isn’t even about watching crap football. It’s about everything else that goes along with it. Be it the emotional turmoil, the time spent with mates, the laughs, the tears, the moans and a million things between.
Trying to explain all that to someone who doesn’t share your passion, especially when there are parts of it you question yourself, is incredibly difficult if not impossible. But there is one subject which is beyond explanation because in many ways, it is totally nonsensical. It is the subject of local rivalry. Or to be more specific, how that rivalry manifests itself in every day life.
Now if you know about this, you know. It’s as simple as that. But if you don’t understand why the sight of a local rivals shirt in the local Tesco can be so irritating or grasp the concept of refusing to employ someone purely because they support the club up the road, nothing I say can ever enlighten you. We know it’s irrational, stupid and even childish, but it’s what we do.
And that brings me to the point of this blog. You see as I was trawling through my folders this morning looking for something I still haven’t found, I stumbled across a piece I wrote for one of my very early books, Derby Days. It refers to an experience I had whilst serving with the Royal Air Force and if anything I’ve ever written highlights the stupidity of following football, it’s this.
But if the same thing happened today, I wouldn’t hesitate to do exactly the same thing. Enjoy!
In 1993, I suffered the unimaginable horror of being posted to serve a four-month tour of duty on the Falkland Islands. Normally, such things are great fun but 16 weeks on Mount Pleasant airfield means a time of unspeakable boredom punctuated only by work, homesickness, excessive bouts of drinking and, depending on which Army regiment is there at the time, fighting.
As someone who stopped drinking some years ago (not because of any alcohol-related problem, but because I am crap at it), who avoids any kind of work with a passion and who would now rather have a decent cup of tea than become involved in any kind of violence, the four months stretching before me as I walked off the plane seemed like an eternity.
But holed-up in a single room, living with loads of blokes in a permanent state of either drunkenness or hangover, I soon took a decision the like of which I never thought would be forced upon me. I decided to use the time to get fit.
Now one thing I do have to say about the Forces is that they like their people to be fit and able, and as I fitted neither of those descriptions, the superb facilities available in the Falklands were soon being put to good use by yours truly. Within a few weeks, I had lost weight and was ‘pumping iron’ and circuit training with the best of them. Something else happened as well, which was a bit scary: I even started to enjoy it.
It was at this point that I met a bloke called Paul. He was, like me, a reluctant regular in the gym and, like me, looked as out of place as a copy of Playboy in a dentist’s waiting-room. But he was a decent bloke, like me in the RAF and married and lived in a town about 40 miles from where I was brought up. Eventually, we decided to work on our fitness together and soon got to the point where we would partner each other in the weekly competitions which could be anything from badminton to basketball.
We were both doing well, weight was falling off and I was feeling healthier than I had for years but because we were different ranks (I was a SNCO, he was an oik), Paul and I never saw each other outside of the gym. This was to change one weekend, when I managed to get hold of a daily paper (like gold dust back then) and decided to go to the Christian reading rooms for a coffee while digesting the news from back home.
As it happened, Paul was there and we started chatting about families and back home, as you always do in those situations. Now, for some reason, we had never got round to talking about football. I have absolutely no idea why not, but when we did, the truth came out. For some reason, I had expected Paul to be a Spurs fan, but no, he calmly announced to me, as if it were normal, that not only was he a L*t*n Town fan, he was in fact a season-ticket holder so attended every home game.
I looked at him in abject horror as the realisation that I had been fraternising for weeks with one of the enemy hit home like a Mohammed Ali right-hander. When I asked him if he was joking, the look on my face clearly had a similar effect and after an exchange frequently peppered with the word ‘scummer’ I did the only thing I could do. Holding onto what dignity I had left, I got up, grabbed my paper and walked off.
We never spoke again.
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