Sporting Loyalties

An introductory note: this piece has been kicking around in my drafts folder for the best part of two years, and for some reason I never got around to finishing it. I’ve finally been prompted to complete it by a post a few weeks ago from Michael, a blogging friend from Australia, who wrote in My Sporting Memories what his sports team meant to him. So I dusted this one down.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post I called A Man Blogs, Aged 64 and a Half , which, if you’ve read it, you will have seen is my little rant on what I perceived as a degree of ageism and sexism in certain blogging quarters. In that piece, I mentioned that many viewed sporting loyalties as a predominantly male preserve, and that I disagreed with that. That may well be the subject for another post but, for now, I’m mulling over something else that struck me: how and why we develop those sporting loyalties, and how they can inveigle their way into our hearts and minds. The complete absence of sport in these days of Coronavirus has given me plenty of time to reflect on why I enjoy watching sport so much, how much I’m missing it, what it means to me, and how my loyalties have developed over 60+ years.

If you have ever looked at my Twitter profile you will have seen that it declares my support for three football teams and one county cricket side. For the avoidance of any doubt in the land of handegg (or down under, where guys in vests play with an eggball – sorry, Michael), when I refer to football I’m giving it its proper meaning, as in association football or, if you must, ‘soccer.’ Having three teams to support may seem excessive, or perhaps self-indulgent – or just downright indecisive! But they all have my support for a reason and, until a few years ago, they gave me interest in different parts of the English football world. And then for a while the unthinkable happened – but more of that later. For this post I’m just featuring my football teams: I suspect that many readers won’t have a clue what cricket is!

My first team was Dover FC, as they were in those days, who have since become Dover Athletic. They were my home town team and my Dad first took me to a game when I was very little, probably about 5 years old.  Dad wasn’t really that interested in the game but it is one of the things Dads do with their sons, isn’t it? I was instantly hooked on the game, and poor old Dad was then committed to taking me again. We didn’t go to every match – far from it – but probably four or five a season. This was at the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s, until I was deemed old enough to be allowed to go with schoolfriends and Dad could spend his Saturday afternoons in more pleasurable activities (for him, anyway), usually involving his shed or the garden. If you’re old enough to recall those days you will be aware of a couple of things: firstly, that football was played in black and white (just look at the old clips!) and secondly that as there were then only two tv channels in the UK there were very few live football matches broadcast. The FA Cup Final was shown each year but I don’t recall seeing much football on tv until Match Of The Day started in 1964, on the newly launched BBC2 (yay, three channels!) and that was only packaged highlights of one game a week. Just occasionally we were given an international match to watch, for no apparent reason, but tv football didn’t really take off until the glories of July 1966, when England hosted and won the FIFA World Cup. For those who don’t know, an image I have used in a previous post is a meme of the commentator from the Final and a very well chosen set of spontaneous words:

To any English football supporter of a certain age those words are now part of our culture, so much so, in fact, that they were used as the title of a tv sports quiz show some years ago. Not even Johnnie Cradock (‘May all your doughnuts look like Fannie’s’) has achieved that.

Cricket ground below, football pitch higher up. Spent a lot of time here!

In both incarnations Dover are what is known in this country as a ‘non-league’ team and can hardly be deemed to have set the footballing world alight. I first saw them in what was then the lower division of the Southern League, from which they were eventually promoted into the Premier division. After a relegation and another promotion, Dover Athletic, as they had become in 1983, reached the top tier of non-league – in those days called the Conference – in 1993. After 9 games Dover Athletic were top of the league, but it didn’t last! Several relegations and league reorganisations later eventually found my first ever team languishing in the fourth tier of non-league football, but several promotions later they were back at non-league’s top table, now known as the National League, and have stayed there comfortably for six seasons. A few FA Cup runs and wins over Football League (EFL) teams have been enjoyed, but that’s about it. You must by now be wondering why I bother! But anyone who has ever formed an affiliation to any sports team, particularly from the area in which they were born, will tell you about the strength of that loyalty. You never lose it: it becomes a part of you. Even though I haven’t lived in the Dover area for 50 years the team still matters to me, and the rare occasions on which their matches are broadcast on tv are treasured by me, most recently a 1-0 win over an EFL side – Southend United – last autumn in the FA Cup, made all the sweeter by the goal being scored by a player on loan from…Leyton Orient. I don’t know who wrote the script for that day! I have many happy memories of going to games as I grew up. One of the earliest – I was 8 – is when Dad and I went on the team coach to see the Whites (as they are still known) play away to Ashford Town in the final of the Kent Senior Cup. Dad knew someone through work contacts so we were offered some spare seats. We reached the ground, Dad gave me the exact admission fee and directed me towards the kids’ queue. I promptly spent some of the money on a programme and poor Dad had to get someone to keep his place in the grownups’ queue while he topped up my funds. Kids, eh? But it was worth it – we won!

1960/61 double winners!

In addition to our little local team we all had a ‘proper’ team that we supported too. Mine has been Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) ever since my Dad read something out from the newspaper about the club history of Bill Nicholson and I thought ‘that’s my team!’ At a rough guess I’d say that was around 1958-9, and when in 1960/1 ‘my’ team became the first team in the 20th century to ‘do the double’ – i.e. win the league and cup in the same season – I knew they were definitely for me! They won the FA Cup again the following season, having by then added the legendary Jimmy Greaves to the team, and followed that the next year by becoming the first British team to win one of the European trophies, beating Athletico Madrid 5-1 in the final of the grandly named European Cup-Winners’ Cup. The first time I went to a game there was on 14 December 1963. I was 10 and it was part of my Christmas present. Spurs beat Stoke 2-1, Greavesie scored both of the goals, and I got to see Sir Stanley Matthews play for Stoke at the age of 48. He was a very special player! Since then, the club has won four more FA Cups (making eight in total), four League Cups and two more European trophies, as well as a fluke run to last year’s Champions League final. But nothing has been won since 2008, despite some great seasons, and even the most loyal amongst us is wondering ‘when?’ To be honest, the suspension of the current season due to Coronavirus was probably welcome, in purely footballing terms, of course, as 2019/20 was shaping up to be Spurs’ worst season for years, and we were even in danger of finishing lower in the league than the Red Mess (sorry, I mean Arsenal).

Since the 1970s I’ve lived in Essex and always took an interest in the nearest Football League team: Leyton Orient. I started going to games regularly after I retired but ill health has kept me away for some time now. In that time the Os, as we know and love them, have had their ups and downs. The high point for me was reaching the 2014 promotion playoff final which, this being the Os, we managed to lose on penalties having been 2-0 ahead both in the match and the shootout. I still remember the tube journey home: unlike Wembley Stadium, the tube trains weren’t segregated and we had to put up with the celebrating Yorkshire oiks! We then suffered dreadfully for three years from from a malevolent (and probably insane) owner and for two seasons, from 2017 to 2019, found ourselves in the same league as Dover Athletic – I endured two years of extremely divided loyalties! Thankfully, promotion back to the EFL was achieved

 and the Os were able to begin the slow path towards recovering former league ‘glories.’ I think we’ll call 2019/20 a season of consolidation, but at least we weren’t about to get relegated again when the season was brought to a shuddering halt – without a climax, so far. We live in hope.

There are rumblings that the German Bundesliga is going to resume next weekend, with games being played without spectators.  At least one team has found a way around that, though:

Enjoying the game, guys?

My tv provider will be covering the games and I’ve no doubt that, having
been starved of real live football for two months, I’ll be watching to get my fix. Somehow, though, it will all seem a bit unreal. It isn’t a league in which I support a team and, with everything going on at present, I have to admit that even the strength of sporting loyalties that have been with me for so long pales into insignificance. I hope I can get my mojo back, as I have really missed the game. The late Bill Shankly once said something like ‘football isn’t life or death: it’s more important than that.’ No matter how much I want to see my teams again, I have to disagree with him on that one. But it would be good to be able to escape into the football world again, hopefully soon.

PS I’ve just realised that this is my 400th post. Thank you to anyone who has ever read, liked or commented on any of them. I’m rather glad this was the milestone post, as it is full of memories for me.

38 thoughts on “Sporting Loyalties

  1. MatchBettingBooms May 23, 2020 / 2:49 pm

    This was a very well written piece and a great read 🙂 Bill shankly was from a era of tough scots managers from the immortal jock stein tothe Legendary Sir matt Busby i have no doubt he believed football was more important than life and death but in these horrible times we realize its just entertainment for the masses.

    Stay safe fellow sports fan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 23, 2020 / 3:26 pm

      Many thanks for reading, liking and commenting. Much appreciated. I’d hope that even Shanks might have reconsidered his comment in current circumstances! You stay safe too 👍

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Prior... May 11, 2020 / 8:27 am

    Glad you “dusted this down” and got to the post!
    And cheers to getting your fix soon- this pandemic has made us all
    Appreciate a lot
    Like sports!
    And you wrote a great article here with Personsal
    Perspective and social insights – fantastic

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 11, 2020 / 11:30 am

      Thank you, you’re very kind. I was glad to finally finish it! Fingers crossed for the end of lockdown sometime soon 🤞

      Liked by 1 person

  3. BillboardVagabond May 11, 2020 / 1:11 am

    Hi Clive, really enjoyed reading your trials and tribulations with your three teams. Looking forward to the Bundesliga as well which will hopefully open the floodgates of the footballing world. Commiserations on how the Spurs season panned out. As you put it, it might just be a blessing in disguise. I am a Man U supporter since 2001 and intend to make my son follow in my footsteps as well without sounding overbearing.
    Thanks and much appreciated for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

    • Clive May 11, 2020 / 11:25 am

      Thanks for your kind words. I have a feeling that the Bundesliga may be a false start as infection rates are rising there again. Fingers crossed! Good luck with your plan to get another Man U supporter – from my experience, kids tend to do the opposite of what you want!


      • BillboardVagabond May 11, 2020 / 11:36 am

        I’ll only let him watch matches involving Man United so that there is no other option to choose. Lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 11, 2020 / 11:42 am

        I wonder how long it will take him to realise that better teams are available? 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim Borden May 10, 2020 / 12:10 pm

    Hi Clive. Great post. And I’m like you in that I have my teams that I root for in a variety of sports, but the one thing they have in common is they are the local team. Philadelphia has a great sporting tradition, but they have been far from perennially successful. Whether it’s US football, baseball, basketball, hockey, football, lacrosse, etc; you name it. If there is a team from Philly, that is who I am rooting for.
    I have started to develop an appreciation for football, and the team I root for is Barcelona, for no other reason than I loved our visit there. I’d pick an England team, but there’s too many to pick from!
    Let’s hope the sports world returns soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 10, 2020 / 12:41 pm

      Thanks, Jim, glad you enjoyed it. You have a lot of sport going on there, plenty to keep you occupied in normal times. I love watching Barcelona – at their best there is nothing quite like them. If you’re going for a non-local team your reason for supporting them is as good as any! I’m missing sport – as well as the truncated football season we should be well into our cricket season by now – but even I have to admit that there are more important things in life!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jim Borden May 10, 2020 / 1:16 pm

        I’ve watched cricket fora few minutes and Iw as completely baffled. At some point I will give it a more serious look…
        Have a great day!

        Liked by 1 person

    • robertawrites235681907 May 10, 2020 / 9:55 am

      I just had to share that about Flanders and Swann, on another note, I am not sporty, I have less interest in sport than I do in TV and movies [the last movie I watched was three years ago]. My husband has tried to encourage my boys into sport but he hasn’t been terribly successful. My influence and my steadfast encouragement for them to read, read and read some more as well as become involved in art and music has taken the lead. As a result, we haven’t missed sport in our house at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 10, 2020 / 10:07 am

        No worries, it brought back childhood memories! There’s much to be said for books but I’m glad I’ve managed to fit sport, tv, films and music into my life too! I can make do without one of them for a time – I do miss it but its absence does put the current situation into perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

      • robertawrites235681907 May 10, 2020 / 6:16 pm

        Sadly, it does, Clive, and many people are missing it. I really missed my family today as it was Mothering Sunday in South Africa.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 10, 2020 / 6:32 pm

        I hope you managed to celebrate Mothering Sunday in whatever way you could. Ours was 22 March, the day before we belatedly went into lockdown.

        Liked by 1 person

      • robertawrites235681907 May 11, 2020 / 8:38 am

        We had a lovely afternoon tea with my mom and dad, they are sheltering in place with us. We had a Skype call with one of my sister’s and her little girl so it was a good time. Thanks Clive.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 11, 2020 / 11:31 am

        Sounds lovely, glad you enjoyed the day 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 10, 2020 / 10:04 am

      I rather like it too! Yes, very familiar with them: they were often on tv variety shows when I was a kid and the Gnu Song was a regular choice on Children’s Favourites, a radio programme that was broadcast at breakfast time on Saturdays. Two clever people!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 10, 2020 / 6:34 pm

        I take it that you also know Gerard Hoffnung’s spoken word pieces, from a similar vintage? Also the songs of Tom Lehrer and clowning around by Victor Borge. All good for a laugh.

        Liked by 1 person

      • robertawrites235681907 May 10, 2020 / 7:13 pm

        I do not know Gerard Hoffnung. Thank you, Clive, I’ll look him up. My mom will probably remember his pieces.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 10, 2020 / 7:15 pm

        I hope you like him: I always laugh when I listen to him, even when I know what’s coming next 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. petespringerauthor May 10, 2020 / 3:39 am

    .I understand the missing sports feeling entirely—I’ve got it bad. I’m the youngest and of four boys, and my older brothers (well, two of them) introduced me to sports. We played everything under the sun in our neighborhood from baseball, American football, baseball, hockey, and just about anything else we could come up with. When we weren’t playing, I was watching. Now I’ve passed that love of sports on to my son. We can talk sports any day of the week, and I love that bond with him. He played football, and now he is a college football coach. Of course, they are all in limbo too, wondering if any kind of season will take place this year.

    Sports is the greatest reality activity ever invented. I think it’s safe to say there was never one week that I didn’t participate or watch sports in the last fifty-five years, so going cold turkey during the pandemic it is testing the limits. What I can’t get into is watching old games that I already know the outcome of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 10, 2020 / 9:51 am

      I used to play a lot when I was younger, not to any great standard but I represented my school at football (soccer), cricket, tennis and rugby so I must have been ok! The spectating bug was instilled in me early, as I said in the piece, and the only things I’m missing during lockdown are my family and sports on tv. As you say, there is little point watching old re-runs – part of the excitement is not knowing the outcome!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Janet Givens May 10, 2020 / 3:00 am

    Hi Clive. Isn’t it a great feeling to dust off one of those old drafts and get it launched? As for your topic though, I can only say that I could never see the appeal of spectator sports. Activity, movement, exercise even, all good. But fit me in a bleacher and I either want to take a nap or open a book. Sorry, just the way my world spins. It must be my lack of warrior genes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 10, 2020 / 9:47 am

      It certainly is – that one has been nagging at me for some time! I used to play a lot of sport when I was younger and have always enjoyed spectating too – but it would be boring if we all liked the same things!


  7. browney237 May 9, 2020 / 10:49 pm

    Hi Clive,
    Glad you completed the post. So interesting to read about your sport supporting past and present. I find it fascinating how so many English supporters talk about the trials and tribulations associated with relegation and promotion. This is foreign to us in Australia as are major codes don’t have relegation.
    I skipped over your reference to Arsenal and your strange interest in Sp*rs. 😀 That said the chance to see Greaves and Mathews play is something very special.
    I guess I too will tune into the German League when it starts next week,to get my fix. In recent weeks my live sport watching has been confined to Supercars E-racing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 9, 2020 / 11:13 pm

      Thanks, Michael, and thanks also for the prod that got me to finish it. I now only have two old posts marked as ‘draft’ to be completed! I’ve always been used to promotion and relegation: it would seem strange to me without them, and there must be so many meaningless games for the teams who aren’t in contention to win anything. I was very lucky with that first Spurs game, and still have vague memories of Sir Stanley turning poor Terry Dyson inside out every time he got the ball. I’m not sure if we’ve had the E-racing here, and I don’t think I’m that desperate that I’d have sought it out!

      Liked by 1 person

      • browney237 May 9, 2020 / 11:20 pm

        Yes you are right about meaningless games. We also have a draft in the AFL that effectively rewards for finishing lower. The draft however does mean that the competition is more even over the cycle and so we don’t really have the equivalent of the Big 6 who dominate forever as the Premier League seems to have.
        Thanks too for the shout out in your post.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive May 9, 2020 / 11:30 pm

        There’s something to be said for the draft system neutralising the financial clout of the bigger teams, but the truncated Premier League season was notable for the competitiveness of some of the ‘lesser’ sides, notably Leicester, Wolves and Sheffield Utd, so maybe there is hope. But when you see stats like the new owners of Newcastle having a fortune about 20 times the size of Man City’s it’s hard to think that money doesn’t talk! You’re very welcome on the shout out: I said I’d credit you for getting me to finish this one!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Mrs ESTJ May 9, 2020 / 9:12 pm

    I’m not a football fan and even I have been to matches. My father in law is an avid fan of Plymouth Argyle. It’s like a soap opera every weekend depending on whether they’ve won or lost. I think football isn’t that accessible for girls. Whilst the times are changing, there aren’t really any female footballers to aspire to in the same way there are men. Woman’s football is definitely the poor relation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 9, 2020 / 9:42 pm

      My younger one has been to a few games and came with me to Wembley. She enjoyed the occasion and her boyfriend has only recently given up playing, so she’s watched him a bit too. Ask your father-in-law about the two games with the Os in 2016/7 – they left us feeling hugely aggrieved at their gamesmanship. I think they’ve changed manager since then so hopefully they have a decent human being in charge now! You’re right about women’s football being under-supported but I think things are beginning to change. Very slowly, though, and the current hiatus hasn’t helped.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. tidalscribe May 9, 2020 / 6:47 pm

    I think the important point is that you went to matches. My brother and father had no interest in any sport, but I think girls brought up in sporting families can grow up loving rugby or football. Chaps who just watch on television without ever going to a real match are not true fans. My son had a friend from a family with five boys and one daughter _ the whole family were ardent followers of Chelsea and their house was often adorned in blue and white.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clive May 9, 2020 / 7:36 pm

      There is nothing to beat the experience of being there. I just wish I could still go – even without coronavirus it isn’t possible for me any more so I have to be a tv viewer now. It doesn’t reduce the feeling of loyalty but it does affect the way I react to games. My Dad was supportive of my hobby but my sister never took to it. You’re right about female supporters, as I alluded to in the post. Chelsea? No accounting for taste, is there!

      Liked by 1 person

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