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.

Health In Numbers

A post for Men’s Health Week

I mentioned in my previous post that, here in the UK, it is Men’s Health Week from 10th to 16th June. I’m not sure if this applies elsewhere but, as the week is organised by the Men’s Health Forum (MHF) – which is a British organisation – I’m guessing maybe it is just us. But if you aren’t from the UK don’t stop reading now: the issue of men’s health is equally valid everywhere.

For this year’s event the MHF is focusing on numbers. Their website shares a number of frightening statistics, some of which I’ll be covering here. They have produced a series of posters which are intended to be displayed in health centres and workplaces, and these make sobering reading. There is a ‘summary’ poster, which is this one:

That doesn’t cover the full set of numbers the MHF are highlighting, but you can see very quickly from it that there are many things we men should be taking better care of. I’m probably typical, in that I need to pay much more attention to my physical health. I am moving home shortly, but once that has settled down I’ll be seeing the dietician at the local hospital to get some advice on improving my diet. Initial contact has been made and they are due to call me after I move to fix an appointment. That will only be the start of it, though, as I know I need to do much more.

One of the other posters tells us of the number 20:

As if I needed any further warning about that, I got it in tragic and dramatic fashion yesterday. Justin Edinburgh, the manager of one of the three football teams I support – Leyton Orient – suffered a cardiac arrest last Monday and passed away yesterday. He had just led the club to probably its most successful season ever, and was looking forward to taking us back into the English Football League. He had just returned from watching one of the clubs he used to play for – Tottenham Hotspur, another of my three – play in the Champions League final, and had been to the local gym with his wife.  He was fit, took good care of himself in a stressful job, and had everything to look forward to. Justin was 49. If you ever needed a reminder of the fragility of life, and of the validity of the MHF’s statistic, there it is.

Those life expectancy figures are a little scary for me. One in five of us men dies before reaching 65 (or even 50, in Justin’s case), and two in five before reaching 75. I’m comfortably in that range, and I know I need to take much better care of myself. Does that apply to you, too? It is never too late to do something about it!

Whilst most of the key numbers concern physical health, the MHF does include a couple of mental health statistics too. The first of these is this:

This raises the huge issue of social inequality, which is far too complex for this post. Sadly, I don’t think the current political situation in this country is conducive to removing the barriers that prevent the achievement of social equality – indeed, I believe we have a government which is doing its best to widen the gap between those who have and those who don’t. Of course, I recognise that to be a sweeping generalisation, and social inequality has existed for thousands of years, so it isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. But it does put into context how hard we all need to be working towards improving our health – both physical and mental.

A further terrifying statistic for men lies in the other MHF poster which focuses on mental health:

Despite the depression I have often chronicled here I have never, ever, had any suicidal ideation. Again, this is a complex issue, and various reasons have been suggested as to why this might be, but if you ever have a thought like that please, please seek help before it is too late. And you don’t have to be male to do that!

If you’ve read this far and are female, and are wondering ‘what about us?’ I would contend that as the stereotypical male buries his head in the sand about health issues – except, of course, for manflu – we need a kick up the wotsit to make us take notice. Physical and mental health are important for everyone of whatever gender, and I think it is good to see a focus on those who that stereotype says might well be in denial about their need to improve their lifestyles. I know I do: I just hope I can actually do more than just talk about it. And I suspect that is equally true of many others.

Please do follow the link I gave earlier to the MHF website. They do a good deal more than run this awareness week, and there are a number (see what I did there?) of useful resources available to you on the site. They say that they have 1.4m visits each year: that doesn’t happen if people don’t think it worth their time and effort.

[I have put this post under my ‘Dates To Note’ category. This was a series I ran through 2013, with occasional returns since then. All of the posts I have placed in that category are available – in reverse chronological order – from the menu at the top of the page. Go on, click the link – you may find something of interest!]

 

Instant Karma

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head…”

So begins the John Lennon song. Yesterday I saw a perfect example of this. OK, it was only in football, and was a long way from being a life or death situation, but it made me laugh. A lot! I must first declare an interest here, as I have supported Tottenham Hotspur since I was 5 and although I now regard them as my third team, behind Leyton Orient (local team) and Dover Athletic (home town) I still follow them.

A little background for you: West Ham won the bidding rights to take over the Olympic Stadium as their home ground, and will move in to play their matches there from next season. The process was acrimonious, as Spurs were also interested and the tactics from both sides were dubious, and the likely effect on the future of the other team in that part of London – my beloved Leyton Orient – could be catastrophic. The deal has been shrouded in secrecy, with many stories of the extremely advantageous terms that have been offered to West Ham, at the British taxpayer’s expense, and there is an ongoing battle under the Freedom of Information Act to have the full contract made public. To complete the powder keg, Spurs’ chairman is renowned as a very hard negotiator, and has fallen out with many other clubs in his 15 years in charge, while West Ham are co-owned by two classy gents who made their fortunes in the porn trade, and have the delightful (i.e. arrogant, unpleasant) Lady Brady as their Chief Executive. Relations between the two clubs are on the Arctic side of frosty.

KarmaSo, imagine my glee when I read this piece in yesterday’s paper, ahead of the match between Spurs and Wet Spam (sorry, West Ham). Footballers are not famous for their intelligence, and there have been many previous examples of open mouths and empty brains combining to provide the perfect incentive for their opposition. Winston Reid is an international footballer, albeit that it is only for New Zealand (sorry, Kiwi readers!) and really should have the experience to know better than to say this in an article which is going to be published on the morning of a match. From my admittedly biased perspective – both on behalf of Spurs and the Orient – this is a classic case of ambition stepping over into arrogance. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, of course, but it needs to be tempered with realism and respect. Reid overstepped the mark on both counts.

So, what happened? Perhaps predictably, and whether or not they had seen Reid’s interview and were motivated by it, Spurs played West Ham off the park. The final score was 4-1 but in reality it could have been a lot more. The wannabe upstarts were put firmly back in their toybox. I know this was only one game and it could all be very different next time. And I know that gloating is an unattractive tendency, but please indulge me. I re-read Reid’s interview after the game and haven’t laughed so much in ages! It seems that I’m not alone in this, judging by this story in today’s paper!

I’m not just telling you all of this to gloat, although I’m honest enough to know that there is much of that in me today. I think there is a life lesson for us in this story. As I said, there is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but that ambition can be damaging if to achieve it others have to suffer. I’m using a game as a metaphor to make this point, and am fully aware how simplistic that is, but take a look at yourself. What do you want to achieve? Would it require trampling on the dreams and hopes of others? Yes? Maybe you should re-evaluate yourself. None of us has the right to better ourselves by hurting others.