At one time people would say of music 'You really have to listen to it when you've taken acid/mushrooms. You don't really get it unless you've taken acid/mushrooms'.
I feel the same way about football and sweets. If you ever watched Adam Boyd at Victoria Park while fizzing on Haribos you'll know what I'm talking about. It was all too beautiful.
On Monday I had a premonition of my death. I was at Brunton Park when it came to me. I saw myself falling to my knees, clutching my throat and turning as pale as Dimitar Berbatov, while all around me men in watch caps and warm-up coats ignored my final, thrashing moments in favour of howling abuse at the match officials for failing to send off any opposition players.
Later, sitting on the eastbound train surrounded by Sheffield United fans talking in their hand-pulled, cask-conditioned accents (If real ale could talk it would sound like John Shuttleworth), I pictured friends receiving the news and murmuring "… choked to death on a midget gem while stood in the rain at a lower division football ground surrounded by the scent of last night's beer and blokes yelling: 'Away, referee, man. Are your cards wedged up your arse?' Yes, it's sad, but I think it's how he would have wanted to go."
It wasn't the first time I've nearly suffered death by midget gem at a football match. In fact it usually occurs at least twice a season. For those of you unfamiliar with the midget gem I should explain that it is a small sweet of roughly the same size and texture as Sherpa Tensing's toe calluses. It is made from some sort of fruit-inspired gum, but is, intriguingly, much harder than its boastful rival the American hard gum, probably because it is British. The obvious way to cheat my fate is to give up eating the warty little sweets. But to me they are inextricably linked with what Pelé once dubbed "My core business going forward". And what would I chew on during matches instead?
Clearly things have changed in the confectionary industry. These days the retailing of bonbons is no longer the sole preserve of elderly men with Mr Whippy hairdos, fastidiously clean hands and the general air of someone who is one step away from having neighbours describe him as "a quiet man who kept himself to himself" to a huddle of tabloid reporters. As a result there is now a huge range of choice. Or is there?
People constantly assure me that middle-class tossers now overrun football. Yet while there may be grounds in the south-east where the chanting of the faithful is drowned out by people discussing the catchment areas of local secondary schools, and rival firms have prearranged face-offs in the side streets to see who has the most over-qualified eastern European au pair girl, such things have yet to permeate the banlieu of the Metropolitan Empire I frequent. So while it may be permissible in north or west London to spend the game nibbling on Piedmontese pralines or sucking Portuguese verbena pastilles, in my goitred neck of the woods even the furtive consumption of a Lindor is likely to be regarded with suspicion.
Besides, I grew up watching football in the 70s. Back then, the terraces were no place for Turkish delight. Or indeed delight of any description. My formative football years were spent in the Bob End at Ayresome Park, surrounded by men brutalised by careers in the chemical plants and fabricating sheds and leisure hours spent watching Dickie Rooks. It was not an environment that encouraged dolly mixtures.
Most of the men in the Bob End were gnarled combat veterans who favoured masculine sweets such as Payne's Army and Navy Drops, the taste of which evoked fond memories of mustard gas attacks on the western front. Once, aged of eight or nine, on a freezing winter's night in which the surrounding phalanx cackled in bitter glee at the sight of Huddersfield Town's youthful centre‑forward Frank Worthington, whose long hair they took as a signal of the approach of Armageddon, I made the signal mistake of taking a sip of hot Oxo while I still had a Victory V lozenge in my mouth. It was the sort of juxtaposition of contrasting flavours that may inspire the radical TV food scientists but even four decades later the recollection still makes me gag.
Shortly afterwards I settled on midget gems as my football pocket sweet of choice. They were colourful and sweet, but had a carbuncle-like recalcitrance that rebuffed any accusations of aesthetic affectation. I have stuck to them, and they have stuck to my teeth, ever since.
I did, I admit, briefly experiment with Haribo Tangtastics, but the damn things are just too edible. I'd get through a large bag in the first half-hour of the match. That's a lot of sugar to absorb, even for a man of my size. By the interval I'd be twitching like Peter Crouch with his finger in a socket. The midget gem, by contrast, is a tough little beast that has to be worked on. Even putting six in your mouth at a time and chewing away as ferociously as Mike Tyson on a stray ear is unlikely to see off more than a couple of dozen per period. They are the football sweet nonpareil as far as I am concerned, and I intend to go on eating them at matches even if it kills me. Which it likely will.