Football has always been a very important part of my life. For the benefit of North American readers I should make it clear that by ‘football’ I mean what you call ‘soccer,’ not the game where a squad of 946 Terminators fight over an egg, and only 2 of them ever kick it. When I was younger I used to play a lot, never at any recognisable level but I enjoyed playing for my school and Sunday League teams. I even won a trophy once. A very small trophy, as Deal and District Sunday League Division 2 Cup Runners-Up, 1970/1. Eat your heart out, Ronaldo! But it was enough to generate a lifelong love of the game, back in the days when there was much less televised football, and very few live games broadcast. In those days, the games that were shown were all in black and white, which makes them seem like ancient history now.
The major lesson I learned from that introduction to the game was that, no matter what the level, actually being at the game and being a part of the atmosphere is a far better experience than watching at home on the large colour TV, in a comfy armchair, in the warm and dry, with a beer to hand. Yes, really! As a spectator, I was an ever-present at Dover home games – my home town – for several seasons in my teens, and have attended many games over the intervening years. Being brought up in a small town like Dover, of course we all supported the local team, but we also formed an allegiance to more distant, glamorous clubs. The nearest club to home that was actually in the main Football League was only Gillingham, and unsurprisingly they scored ‘nul points’ for support at my school! My chosen team was Tottenham Hotspur, and I saw my first live game there when I was 10. The great Stanley Matthews was playing for the opposition, Stoke City. You just don’t ever forget memories like that! I still regard Spurs as my Premier League team – we all have to have one, right? – and Dover Athletic will always be my first love. But in recent years I have become a big supporter of my local League team, Leyton Orient, and now have a season ticket for home games there. For the uninitiated, the Os, as we know and love them, are currently in the fourth tier of English Football which, naturally, is called League Two. But we are hopeful of an immediate return to the third tier – League One – after being relegated last season. That would put us back on a par with the dreaded Gillingham!
Yesterday the Os were at home to a club with a long tradition in English Football, Accrington Stanley. Thanks to a virus (1 game) and a knackered back (3 games) it had been a while since I had last been to a game, but I was declared fit to take my seat in the stands yesterday and went with the usual hope and anticipation. For 25 minutes it was really good. The Os were playing well, creating loads of chances and could have been 3 goals up. Then I decided to invoke my jinx-like capabilities by saying to my neighbour “we need to start taking these chances, or they’ll score on the break.” Yup, a minute later Nostradamus would have been proud of me! After that it all went downhill. Fast. We hardly created another chance after that, and the one really good one left every supporter wishing their grannie had been playing (“even my grannie could have scored that”). The game drifted away to a 1-0 defeat, and the good football was played by Accrington and his mate Stan. Loyal to the end, we booed our team off the pitch!
As far as I’m aware I’m neither insane or a masochist, but I have to say that I enjoyed my day out. We had some laughs, and there were still a few things to encourage us about the future, even though the team has been on a terrible run recently. There is another home game next weekend, in the FA Cup against a team three tiers below us, so that should be an easy win, shouldn’t it? Dream on! Why do we love the beautiful game? Anything is possible, that’s why. The only thing I can say with any degree of confidence is that the crowd will be much smaller next week because 1) we were bloody awful yesterday and 2) we have to buy a ticket for next week, as Cup games aren’t included in the season ticket. But, bad back and snotty nose permitting, I’ll be there. It’s an addiction, you see!
For some, yesterday evening would have been horrible after watching that performance. Me? I went home, turned on that large TV, ordered a pizza and enjoyed an evening of Strictly Come Dancing and nasty Swedish crime. It was a grand day!