Saturday, 29 August 2015


Last week at Seaham the man in front of me said that he had noticed something peculiar about Bovril. 'Doesn't matter what supermarket you go - Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury - it's always the same price,' he said.
'The buggers are fixing it, aren't they?' his friend said. 'It's a bloody cartel, is what it is.'
Hillheads and the romance of the Cup for me today. Meantime here's a thing for WSC.
When doing the cooking I listen to 5Live. This is partly because I have recently developed such a Radio Four-intolerance I suffer anaphylactic shock if I hear the words “With me, Mark Lawson”, but mainly it’s because I find the best way to judge whether broccoli is cooked is by putting it in the steamer and then counting off the times Steve Claridge uses the phrase “got the team set up right“. I find that six usually has it done in the fashionable al dente style, though if you want the more traditional British “boiled to a slop” you may have to go as high as 35.

Like everything these days, with the exception of my own life, 5Live is thrillingly interactive. This means that at some point the presenter will call a halt to Danny Mills and read out a text from John on the M25 “who says “These so-called fans should stop complaining and support the team”. Whenever I hear this comment I confess I am puzzled. To a hefty number of football fans – possibly even a majority -  moaning, grumbling and chanting “You’re getting sacked in the morning” at the manager is supporting their team.

Part of the problem seems to be that too many people think the verb to support only has one meaning. This is not the case. Just as there is a big difference between playing football, playing the fool and playing a trout (insert your own “though not much in the case of England” joke here), so there is a vast divergence between, say, supporting your children and supporting a football team.  One involves building self-confidence, nurturing, providing unconditional laundry. Supporting a football team, on the other hand, well, that is an altogether different business.

In August I was at a wedding of an old school friend in Devon. Another of our former classmates had flown in from New England. He’d moved to the US from Archway when he was twenty and been there ever since. In three decades his London accent has merged into Massachusetts.
We were sitting on the terrace of the hotel taking about football. “Gary Neville’s analysis is great,” my friend said, “I love Gary Neville”. I said I didn’t know you could get Sky in the US. “I can’t,” he said, “I watch clips on Youtube”.

His wife who was sitting beside him raised her eyebrows, “We have very long winters.” she said.

“Gary Neville’s fantastic. I just wish he hadn’t played for Man U” my friend said.

“He gets to watch them play every five years,” his wife said, “But he still loves Arsenal”.

My friend looked at her with scornful astonishment, “I don’t love Arsenal,” he said, “I hate them. They drive me fucking mad”.


A Saturday lunchtime a month or so later, I’m on the Tyne and Wear Metro. At  a gaunt looking man in his late fifties, wearing a grey tweed coat and a black-and-white scarf got on.  A bloke in a Newcastle shirt already in the carriage greeted him warmly. “How are doing, nowadays?” He asked. The other man smiled, “Much better, much better,” he said, “I had the six month check and I got the all-clear.”

The other man expressed his happiness at the good news. “Aye,” the first man said and fingered the black-and-white scarf around his neck, “Mind I’ve still got the agony of watching these bastards”.

The other man grimaced, “It’s been painful,” he said, “Really painful”.
“If I hadn’t been to the doctors that much recently,” the first man said, “I’d be round there now begging some tablets for it” the first man said. “Something to wean me off them, like.”

The second man said, “Boots the Chemist ought to make some patches”.


There followed a brief exchange in which the pair tried to raise the mood by talking about Paolo Di Canio, but it was plain their hearts weren’t in. The train pulled into Monument. “You getting off here?” the man in the black-and-white scarf asked. The other man shrugged, sighed and said, “I was hoping not too. But, aye, come on, let’s go and take our punishment like men”.

Were these men fans? Definitely. Yet anyone listening to them would have come away with the impression that the only time they’d get behind their team was if they were perched on the edge of a cliff and only needed a nudge to send them over and into the sea below.

Perhaps it’s an age thing, but to me this sort of mordant exasperation, a feeling of being driven mad, seems to me to be as much supporting a football team as naming your children after the forward line, or getting a portrait of the club’s all-time greatest player tattooed on your back. Yet so far Mark “Chappers” Chapman has never interrupted John Motson in mid-chuckle to say, “And Martin on Twitter says, “Why can’t these so-called supporters stop clapping and cheering the side’s every touch and just sit with their arms folded, glowering and making the occasional tutting noise?”.

Perhaps no one sends in such messages. In the interests of balance they really should. And you know, if I didn’t have watch the carrots I’d do it myself.

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