football first

“If it’s going well, do you think you might sack off the football match?”

A friend asked this before a date and I blanched.  No!  Of course not you idiot, I replied in my head.  The football match was the main reason for my being in London.

It was a fair question, I suppose.  Although I never entertained it as a realistic possibility – because I wanted to go to the game, I’d paid a substantial amount of money, was looking forward to the game and don’t go to matches much – it was indeed possible.  I could have sacked it off.  And who knows?

“Actually, you know what?  Hell, it’s cold, my back hurts.  Let’s just stay here in the warm.”

It would have enabled a longer time together, more conversation, a shared experience of something – a gallery or film – perhaps the added relaxant of an alcoholic drink or two, which could help boozy goggles; more stuff.  And who knows?  Probably not, of course..

But no.  I went to the football, which was half-ruined as a result of the previous two hours.

You ideally want to arrive a while before the match, get into the zone for a game, find out the team news, absorb the atmosphere, grow nervously excited.

You don’t want to travel up painfully overanalysing a date, be irritated that she’d done that defensive girl thing of shoving a cheek in your face at the end.  *Kiss Me Nowhere Except Here On My Cheek Then Fuck Off*.  You don’t want to be very cold and overchew a piece of gum as you walk to the stadium and only find your seat as the players exit the tunnel onto the pitch, and have half a mind on your mobile as the game kicks-off and barely be able to stop shivering and have serious back-pain each time you stand up to watch an attack over a few thousand heads.  You don’t want to feel disappointingly little as your team plays remarkably well and race into a commanding 4-0 lead, professionally strangling the life and drama out of a game.

Even far back in the distant midst of a serious relationship I instinctively put Tottenham first.  A Sunday afternoon in bed was curtailed by a text from a friend reminding me about a televised cup tie against Chelsea which I’d forgotten was kicking off in 15 minutes.  Virtually mid-coitus, I had unapologetically leapt from the bed, collected strewn items of clothing, got dressed and headed to the pub.

We lost 4-0.  Eidur Gudjohnsen scored a hat-trick.

I guess my long term relationship with football and Tottenham, while often rife with angst and heartbreak, has been longer, more constant and more reliable than any relationship with a woman.  Barring one or two horrible summer months, football is always there.  Football always makes me feel something, it always gives, even if it gives shit, even if gives Jason bloody Dozzell.

In trying to explain football to non-football fans I say it’s a story which you’re part of.  It could be a dull story or an exciting story, but it will be a story of some kind, and each match is an isolated narrative of its own, part of something broader and longer: a competition, a season, a career.  You invest in the characters of players, or your perception of their characters.

It helps if there’s some instinctive appreciation of the artistry of ball-play, team movement, the skill involved, the ballet of a beautiful diving header or a perfectly executed bicycle kick.  That makes a story memorable.

This is heightened when you’re playing the game, when you’re living the story, even if there are no spectators at all, even if you’re being embarrassed by the skill of an adolescent half your age or intimidated by the aggression of a maniac more intent on doing harm than playing fotball; it’s enlivening if not always enjoyable.  It makes you feel.

Above anything sport can give out outlet for displaced emotions which you might like to express in other parts of your life but can’t, because right here right now there’s nothing as important as winning.

I like to think I’d be capable of prioritising a woman above football, in the right circumstances, but it would demand a reciprocal certainty I’ve rarely experienced.  Maybe if she could pull off a slick Cruyff turn..

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