I never found football.
It found me.
I wasn’t big on the local team growing up, despite them winning the European Cup with what I now know was sheer awesomeness that inspired a generation of peers and school mates.
I was a late developer.
For those that know me, I’m big on DVD box sets, but several years after everyone else has completed them and moved on. I wept when Blockbuster ceased to trade. In fact I’m told there’s a new thing called Netflix that I should give a go some day.
As a kid, I tried to join the local boys team, but they were full. I didn’t try again.
I had several tracksuits in my teens but from different clubs and sports brands depending upon who my best friend was and whom they supported at that time. My tolerance of football was skin deep. Fake if you will and not helped by having a pushy parent of the egg shaped ball that meant football was rarely on the agenda in our house.
Yes, Id been to football matches before but perhaps at stadia that didn’t inspire, were falling apart and spent time waiting to be entertained by teams incapable of any level of entertainment whatsoever. On a wet Wednesday against an equally lacklustre team as the driving rain came down, it’s difficult to see how it would inspire the players let alone anyone watching.
And thus years later, I was an adult, a bonafide “man” with a love of other sports (I won't confess - yet) but when it's your job to eat, sleep, act and fane an interest in football – as I did, it lit something in me. Especially when compared to my friends, who had comparatively dull jobs involving accounts, oil, teaching or animals.
And so it happened as I walked up the steps, quite high up in the gods to be honest, but it was early on a non-match day with a bright winter sun rising above the stands. And there were 40000 red and blue seats glistening in the sun. The grey concrete looked more like a polished diamond than a cheap building material. The grass was greener than any golf course I had ever laid eyes on and looked more like a snooker baize than a football pitch.
Then the sprinklers came on – and instant rainbow was created around the penalty box. I noticed that there were two players, accompanied by what I assume to be physios or trainers, doing an intricate series of fitness exercises up and along and down the stairs of the stadium. It looked fun, it looked tough and hell, they looked fit.
24 hours later, I sat in a corporate box being wined and dined, meeting colleagues and clients, watching the game, enjoying some quality football and, from what I remember, there being lots of goals. It was the same excitement from the stadium as the day before, but only better – helped, no doubt, by the catalyst of 40,000 full seats and thousands of “angelic” voices belting out song after song of crude club chants and songs. Much banter between supporter groups!
People made football real for me. Real people made football and they brought it to life – with vibrant colour, merry song and challenging banter.
And so I stand before you, many years later, as a fully-fledged convert. A true fan of the real beautiful game – three years of season tickets later, two International matches at our home stadium and one travelled World Cup under my belt (okay, so we don’t go to many) but that has been the pinnacle to date! The tour was not about standing out, it was about fitting in – dressed like everyone else, loving our team and enjoying the revelry in good weather. More colour, song and banter!
But that’s not the end of my tale as I’ve now a seven-year-old boy who I’m trying to wrap in the warm loving arms of football supportership. To bring to the fold and to inspire, educate and to benefit from its colourful and noisy offering. To introduce the legends – some great and some small. But they will forever come and go.
But the spectacle of it all, that, my friend, and only that, is the true love of the game.