I haven’t always liked football. When my dad first took me to a game as a kid, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone wanted to sit on a hard seat for 90 minutes watching tiny men kick a ball far away. So I told my dad I would come back if I was allowed to bring a book. He understandably was not too pleased. Fast forward 8 years and I have a season ticket – and have had one for a while now – I go to games as much as is humanly possible and I absolutely love it. I’m not sure when I caught the bug, but at some point I got hooked. And why? Nothing has changed about the sport itself, yet I would never dream of taking a book to a match now. The magic secret is that I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and passion in the world’s most supported sport.
The thing is, football supporters often get tarred with the same brush and broad generalisations are made against us, as though 4 billion fans can somehow all be summarised in a few sentences. “Football is for boys, the supporters are uneducated, fans are violent wife-beaters and thugs.” In this column, I’d like to address these claims on the back of my own experience at matches as: a) a girl b) a university student and c) a non-thug. There’s a whole host of issues we can talk about regarding football that don’t require us to boil every man, woman and child who attend matches down to the archetype fan. Issues like class and politics, and the role they play in how we talk about football, or the presence of – or lack of – racism and homophobia. But first, why bother? Some would argue that it’s only a sport with no greater meaning behind it. Well, football is often more than a hobby – it’s a way of life.
When football is done right, it is physical poetry. 11 men become one team, dribbling and tackling, making impossible passes, beating opponents left and right as if it was easy. Your goalie somehow grows half a couple of inches to make that save and the ball goes anywhere except behind your own goal line. And when that shot is made, the ball moves as if it had a life of its own, spinning and swerving to slot into the top corner and you remember how to breathe again.
Even when the game is gritty and tough, when nothing goes your way and your team are quite frankly shite, there’s still that deep love there, and the unshakeable hope that next time, next time they will be better, do better and finally you’ll be victorious.
There’s something electric at big games too. A palpable energy that gets your adrenaline pumping and sets your body on edge. When the release of a goal cuts through all that nervous energy it feels like you’ve just dropped down a steep rollercoaster, making people do crazy things like leaping to their feet and hugging random strangers. Except they’re not strangers any more – you’re bonded by that orgasmic event. It’s a thrill that never stops giving but makes you thirst for more. Football is a drug.
I’m fortunate enough to support a team that wins far more often than it loses, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to go to the games. I’ve been to matches wearing three pairs of socks to get soaked through, watch my team get beat and trudge home despondent. I’ve jumped over streams of piss and used toilets in minus temperatures with no heating or hot water. I’ve been to Dingwall. And I’ve never regretted going to a match. It’s always worth it to see your team. On the plus side, I’ve travelled to Milan, watched my team beat our biggest rivals and experienced the pure joy of a Killie pie.
What keeps you going through the hard slog is the knowledge that even standing out in a glorified field god knows where, without even the comfort of a roof to shield you against the wind and hail, watching your team play part time plumbers (much respect guys, I can neither run for 90 minutes or fix sinks, never mind both), there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. Well, except maybe in the sheltered section…
Standing in a stadium surrounded by tens of thousands of fans singing in time to the same songs that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents belted out is quite often a surreal experience. What’s even better is joining in, singing at the top of your lungs lyrics to which you have a deep emotional connection. In that moment, arms straining to hold up a scarf in a sea of the same colours, you can’t help but feel a part of something so much bigger than yourself.
[Louise Wylie – @WomanPendulum]