To avoid confusion, when I say “football” I am talking about “soccer.” Unless you already call it football, in which case just ignore this paragraph. Anyway we’re talking round balls, people. Round.
To live in the UK and not go to a football games feels all kinds of wrong. I think if I had to pick a song for our time here, it would be the theme from Match of the Day. I’ve wanted to go for ages, and yesterday I finally did. For fifteen minutes.
I’m Australian and from a rugby family. Growing up, football was a game for immigrants and little kids. I did have a foray into football when at nine, I was the only girl in Wee Waa’s (yes that’s what my hometown is called) competition. The ball coming anywhere near me was terrifying, but I thought I did a good job of hiding it. Then one day, the coach stuck me in goal and told me to stop running away from the ball. Oh. My highlight of the whole experience was playing with glass all through my hair after shattering the windscreen with my head on the way into town – but that’s another story.
Mine is a family who love watching rugby together. Dad would take us to Wallabies and Waratahs games, and I didn’t even mind having to wear a battery-powered Wallabies beanie (that’s a warm hat) with a big flashing Wallaby on the front. It was always good fun – great company, great crowd, great game.
But take a really good rugby crowd, give them an intravenous hit of triple espresso, stick a rocket under each seat, and you have a football crowd.
And I absolutely loved it.
Even getting the train there was fun. You feel like you’re part of a club, which I suppose many of them are. I took my son, and it was a lot of effort not to play along by saying things like, “Yes, just taking my lad to a game… off side… goal… striker… world cup… the man from the crisps ads…” For that is all I know.
We were swept by the crowd to the stadium. People were so friendly, seriously, I lost count how many times people asked my boy if this was his first game. Once we got there I did the normal thing and bought a beer. In my world, you never ever watch a rugby game without a beer – it’s like a movie without popcorn. Security took great pleasure in telling me off, for a second I thought he was joking, but when was the last time a security guard joked? I drank as much as I could behind the white line but knocking a warm beer back with my five year old felt wrong. Bye bye beer.
We took our seats right behind the goal posts and watched Fulham and Norwich warm up. Mark Schwarzer was practicing his saves (do we call them saves?) in front of us, we cheered Fulham on, and the whole thing was just fab. Three big blokes came and sat in front of us and immediately offered to swap seats so my little man could see. The ten minutes before the teams came out to play were palpable, the music was building up and up, the fans were on their feet, both sides were singing… then when the teams ran out it was incredible. I have never experienced anything like it. I tried to video it, it’s a bit shaky and if you’re really keen, I suggest you let it buffer first.
I have always liked football as a sport, but I didn’t expect to love being there so much. I was sitting there trying to take it all in, when I looked down at my son. I thought he’d love it too. But he was sitting with his hands over his ears, tears streaming down his face. He has always been a little bit funny with loud noise, and this was just too much.
I tried to reason with him. I managed to bribe him into giving it five more minutes, honestly thinking he’d get into it. We stayed for as long as we could, but I couldn’t ignore his tear-streaked face and him pulling on my sleeve desperate to go home. Our time was up.
But I’ll go again.