As a fan of some years standing, I can confirm that football is not an easy life companion. I love it, of course, but it’s like that mate who turns up late to the Christmas Day do, drinks all the brandy and then starts throwing shapes on the dancefloor thinking they’re Travolta.
Just as you’re trying to quietly usher them out without further embarrassment, you realise they’ve tucked the table cloth into their collar and in bolting to the bar for last orders, have showered your Gran in Iceland vol au vents.
Mere proximity to their work taints you.
Unless you’re Arsenal, Forest Green or my Gran, the vol au vents analogy doesn’t stand. The rest does. The bloke next to you at football who insists on defaming the linesman at full volume, even though you’re in the family stand and a child (probably his) is looking up at him with a mixture of fear and admiration on its ruddy little face. The people who used Shkodran Mustafi’s tweet of condolence to Leicester City’s players and fans as an opportunity to criticise his form.
Do you ever see these things and wonder if you walked in the wrong door when sporting preferences was being handed out?
You’d think, then, that I’d be grateful of an opportunity for football to show its true colours. That I’d be proud to see football band together as it has over recent days, first over the sudden illness of Glenn Hoddle, then the horrific helicopter crash at Leicester City.
Well, I was for a bit. Pausing during the minute’s silence on Saturday at Cardiff City, I was overwhelmed by the loss and buoyed by the togetherness. As a neutral I had no horse in the title race of the Premier League season 2015/16, but I’d be surprised if there’s another as thrilling in my lifetime. The story of that season, the 5000/1 outsiders lifting the trophy is proper Roy of the Rovers, and football’s always been a sucker for a blond bombshell.
Then, as is also traditional, I over thought it. Why do people have to die horrifically in order for it to be deemed acceptable for football people to cry? How come players are issued with death threats if they leave one club for a rival and yet those contentious club rivalries disappear like mirages when a tragedy of sufficient magnitude occurs? Why can a minute’s silence be observed when it’s ok for another to be heckled?
I may be a minority here, but it somehow feels worse when we show our compassion and understanding at times like these because it demonstrates that we all know how we should behave. Apparently some people just choose to be disrespectful, immature and intolerant when it suits them.
People who really love football love it because of the partisan nature that encourages us to shout without thinking, not despite it. A suspension of rational adult behaviour occurs when one is parked in a plastic seat, handed a pie with ketchup on the lid and told to cheer the Blues or the Reds. It’s intoxicating and vaguely primal to leave dignity behind in favour of reckless abandon.
Presumably that’s why a minority of people forget to leave it in the stadium. Life is so much easier when you can ignore gray areas such background information and nuance and move directly to shouting abuse. It’s no coincidence that most of this fomenting happens on Twitter, which actively encourages the hot take by providing us with character limits and snake emojis.
It’s important to remember these details as we immerse ourselves in the now standardised confusion and intolerance football experiences as Armistice Day approaches. It’s easy to get sucked in, but those who care enough to understand what wearing a poppy truly means will appreciate someone’s right to choose. Be a proper grown up about it and represent the game.
The rest? Including the chap who decided Matic’s legs should be broken upon spotting his poppy-less shirt during Saturday’s game? They’re essentially that mate you find in a pub car park insisting he’s fine to drive, despite the fact he’s trying to unlock someone else’s van and isn’t wearing any trousers. Take his keys off him and call him a cab.
He’ll be grateful to you in the morning, and he’ll probably (hopefully?) apologise for all the swearing.