In the middle of these difficult times–or perhaps not the middle but towards the end if the Government should be believed (they shouldn’t)–last night brought a measure of good news if, like me, you are a fan of ‘the football’ in general and of Liverpool Football Club (LFC) in particular.
Last night, with a game between the second place team, Manchester City and Chelsea, Liverpool at last became champions when, after Manchester City lost that game, it became mathematically impossible for them to catch Liverpool, who were already on top of the league by a massive margin.
I am what citizens of the great city of Liverpool would probably call a ‘glory hunter’ fan, i.e. a Liverpool FC fan who lives, and has never lived, anywhere near the city that is the home of the football club he supports. Therefore, not a real fan like them.
Guilty. In fact, I’ve never, ever been to Liverpool. I have been to LFC matches, when they’ve been close enough, but the love is long distance otherwise.
But this is the way that being a fan of a club, football, cricket or rugby etc, works for a lot of us, and perhaps particularly in areas where, geographically, even if you had a lower league football team to lend your support to (for me Exeter City, Torquay United or Plymouth Argyle, the Devon teams) it was a fifty mile trek each way, which was a long way to walk for a five year old.
So the glamorous side of football you were exposed to as a young child was via the television more often than not, with ‘Match of the Day’ highlights and in those days even live matches without having to pay extra to watch them.
For a young boy, when the Match of The Day highlights program was on too late for him to still be up, before any sort of video recorders even, it was the live matches and the Sunday papers match reports which was the proper football.
The other sort was standing on the sidelines of a muddy pitch with your Dad, freezing to death on a Saturday afternoon while watching some non-league town game. Full of puffing and somewhat rotund hoofers shouting ‘Pass the fackin’ thing then!’ or ‘Over ‘ere Twiggy!’ and almost feeling the pain and pretending not to understand the curse-filled screaming resulting from thundercracks of shin on shin or head to head collisions, with the ball meanwhile innocently half submerged in a bog in the middle of the field.
Small Town v Smaller Town. Attendance 7. And three dogs.
On somewhat warmer indoors Saturday afternoons, when perhaps an incessant deluge had made them call off the bogball or you’d managed to talk yourself out of going with your Dad, there was a sports program on two of the three TV channels in the afternoon, and they used some cutting edge and spooky technology to show that afternoon’s match results ‘coming in live’ at around 4.45pm via ‘the vidiprinter’ feed.
This was a glorified typewriter on the screen that fed the teams name, letter by letter, followed by a somewhat mischievous teasing pause before applying the number of goals scored as each game’s final whistle went. They broadcast a picture of the reporter at the game who provided a brief match report by various crackling qualities of telephone lines into the program.
Football matches themselves were effectively imaginary at first then, fed by the numbers and scorers name and who had thumped, sizzled or gloriously placed the ball into the net according to the reporter.
For some reason, an attachment to a certain team forms at some early stage of life and it is then burnt into your very soul with a sort of psychic branding iron. The point at which I was branded, aged about 5, was at early (we called it ‘Infant’ then) primary school.
I now shudder as I write because I have just looked at that and realised how close to 50 years that is. Fuck me.
In my bad poetry entry here, I captured the main reason for becoming a LFC fan rather than an Aston Villa, West Ham, Chelsea or (shudder) Manchester United one. It was a girl.
Helen, beautiful and with the strange accent, arrived in our class halfway through a term. I thought she was Welsh, mainly because, at age 5, that was the only place I’d heard of in Britain that I knew there were people who spoke English but it was a weirdly different sort to us in it. There were freckles as well. Exotic.
When she was joyfully placed in the class at the desk in front of me, my smooth chat-up lines (‘Oi, do you want a Wine Gum?’) and further gentle enquiries (‘Where you be from then?’) revealed that she was in fact a Liverpudlian, supported LFC and so, very obviously, I now did too. Always had, I added.
And, incidentally, most of the boys in the class had always been too, even if they had been playing as ‘Lou Macari’ or ‘Steve Coppell’ in the lunch break’s football match the day before.
Since that moment, the ‘always have supported Liverpool’ has been true.
So it was that last night, I was sat on the sofa in the living room with my headphones on, plugged in to the commentary for a game that didn’t involve ‘my’ team, willing on a team I didn’t support because I really, really wanted them to beat the other one I didn’t support.
And also so it was that when there was a penalty awarded and a sending off towards the end of the game that brought the prospect of it happening, this time, for real, right now, almost a certainty, that Mrs B had to yank me down off the ceiling by the headphone cord and tell me to calm down otherwise I’d be back in hospital attached to monitors again.
I thought back to when the last time LFC were winners of the league, 30 years ago. I worked out that I was in my early twenties then, and that didn’t seem that long ago either. And now most of the members of the current team weren’t even born when that happened. And there was no internet or mobile phones.
That time, I expect I went to the pub to celebrate (I don’t remember, so that is the most likely explanation). This time, it’s so strange that even the celebrations going on in the streets of Liverpool are very probably unwise.
A season interrupted for nearly three months, the return of it being played in surreal atmospheres and the broadcast match soundtracks having artificial crowd noise added in an effort to recreate some of the auditory match day experience.
And ‘my team’ Liverpool Football Club, Champions again after thirty years.
Thank you team and, wherever you are, hope you’re enjoying today as well Helen.