I’m staying in a swish London hotel at the moment. Don’t worry, somebody else is paying! Anyway, that meant that I watched the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool in the hotel bar.
There were lots of us who were neutral, some part-time Chelsea fans who couldn’t be called ‘die hard’, and a small group of real passionate Liverpool fans decked out in shirts, scarves, the lot.
Obviously I watched the game, but I also couldn’t help watching the Liverpool fans who went through every emotion known to man during those one hundred and twenty minutes. It was in the bar after the game that I saw one of those Liverpool fans sitting on his own, pint in hand, looking like his world had caved in. All footy fans know that feeling and it took me back to some very dark days indeed.
As I watched this middle aged man sat on his own in a busy bar, with tears forming in his eyes my heart sank in sympathy and empathy with him. I didn’t mind that Liverpool lost, but I felt the sadness that only footy fans can feel at a time like that.
I was taken back to one of my earliest strong football memories. It was 1973 and England had drawn 1-1 at home to Poland and therefore failed to qualify for the world cup. I was eleven years old and I cried and cried. It just wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t have happened. I didn’t understand why we hadn’t won and I didn’t understand why I felt so absolutely devastated.
It’s OK for an eleven year old boy to cry about football but grown men shouldn’t do it, should they? No, of course we shouldn’t. It’s only a game they say. Don’t you believe it!
1984. By now I was a reasonably sensible twenty-two year old man. My beloved Watford had reached the FA Cup final at Wembley for the first time in their history. I just knew we would win. It was destiny. I had already decided how and where I was going to celebrate our famous success after the game. What happened? The team forgot to turn up and we lost 2-0 to Everton. I sang all through the game and afterwards. As the players left the field were there tears in my eyes? You bet there were.
1996. European Championship semi-final at Wembley. England against Germany. It was our year. It was our time. As a mature and responsible thirty-four year old man I would obviously be in complete control of my emotions. The joy of Shearer’s goal, the despair of the equaliser. The drama of golden goal, the agony of Gazza’s miss. The absolute despair of seeing Gareth Southgate’s penalty saved. In a split second, my world had caved in around me again. Did I cry? What do you think?
I could go on and on. The last time I felt like this was probably earlier this season when England lost to Croatia. Not only was I dejected by the defeat and the performance but I was also horrified that these players had ruined my summer! So there I am, a forty-six year old man and footy can still completely take me over and defeat can still hurt as badly as almost anything else in the world.
Of course, I also feel like crying every time I watch Watford this season but that is another story altogether!
So last night as I polished off another pint of Stella and watched that fan going through hell I knew exactly how he felt. I didn’t feel the same because I had no emotional attachment to either side, but I felt his pain. I felt his agony when Drogba put Chelsea ahead and then his unrestrained joy and certainty of victory when Torres equalised. When Lampard bravely tucked away his penalty the joy was gone but the hope was still there. Drogba’s second goal was a knife through the man’s heart, but then with three minutes to go a goal was clawed back and the impossible became possible. The final whistle ended Liverpool’s dream for this season and ended that fan’s will to live for the time being.
I didn’t know the man, I didn’t speak to him and I have no idea who he was or what he does for a living. He might be a good man or bad man and I might like him or hate him. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am from the same family. The family of football supporters who can understand each other without saying a word.
People who don’t ‘get’ football think we are mad and don’t understand how we let it affect our lives so much. I think they’re probably right. We are mad. One thing is for sure though, at forty-six I’m unlikely to change now. If Watford lose at Blackpool on Sunday and don’t make it to the Championship play-offs, will I take it in my stride as middle aged married man with children should do? You and I both know that I won’t.
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