And so now we have all heard the traditional call that heralds the start of the North-East football season: 'Christ's sake referee get involved.'
I went to Northern League games on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday - part pleasure, part work, part desperate cry for help.
When I told a friend who knows nothing of these matters what I had been doing he said, 'You must really like non-League football.'
'No,' I said, 'I just go as a way of meeting women.'
'Wow,' he said, 'Really?'
The exchange resulted in this
Anyroad, here we are again, back as promised for another season of thrills, spills, bellyaches and gratuitous mentions of Arthur Horsfield.
Before we get started may I commend to you the 'Birth of the Blues' exhibition at Auckland Castle which is on until 28th September. It's a lovely collection of artefacts and photos detailing the history of Bishop Auckland FC. If you care about North-East football you should go and see it. And if you don't care about North-East football you should go and see it until you do. Who knows, you might even bump into Arthur Horsfield.
Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, Benfield v Yorkshire Amateur for me today. Here's something I wrote a decade ago to teach new fans how to behave.
How To Go To Football
For the novice attending his or her first football match one important fact must be born in mind – no matter what the TV companies, advertising copywriters and sportswear manufacturers may think, people do not go to games to be entertained. They go to rant, to torment, to sneer, to experience child-like glee and black despair, but most of all they go because a football ground is the only place on the planet where a forty-year- old accountant with three children, a tracker mortgage, a Renault Megane on 0% finance and a rapidly expanding waistline can make obscene gestures at strangers without anyone thinking it in the least bit inappropriate.
Arriving At The Ground
1) There are two types of people who go to football matches. The first group wear thick coats apparently made from old boiler lagging and arrive at least half-an-hour before kick-off. They then mill aimlessly around glancing about the concourse in the hope of seeing the players’ miraculously over-dressed wives and children arriving. The second group where only the flimsiest shirt no matter what the weather and keep warm by a combination of beer and layers of aftershave. This group never gets to the ground until 30 seconds before kick-off. If you decide to join the latter body remember that in your rush to get to your seat you must shove, barge and stamp on everyone who has arrived sensibly early because they are the sort of middle-class tossers who are ruining football.
2) When you get into the ground you will see lots of men and women in big, fat luminous coats that make there arms stick out from their sides like the wings of a wet cormorant. These people are the stewards. But don’t let the word steward fool you. They are not here to provide any kind of service.
1) Football fandom is a participatory sport, so get involved. Pick a player from your team and shower abuse on him at every opportunity regardless of how well or badly he’s playing. Don’t forget that everything that goes wrong is totally this man’s fault. When the ball is booted forty yards and runs out of play exclaim, “Where’s his bloody anticipation? Nothing should deter you. Just because the player you have chosen to target beats five opponents and finishes by blasting in a shot from thirty yards that is no excuse to ease up. Simply wait until the celebrations have subsided and then grimly observe, “The wages he’s on he should be doing that every week”.
2) Always remember that the referee is devoutly biased against your team. Fate may be blind but refs are merely blinkered. It is essential to abandon any attempt at taking a balanced view of things. Fairness and perspective has no place in football. When abusing the match officials try to always include at least one reference to his or her rectum, for example “Where’s your yellow card, ref, up your arse?” or “Get your flag down from your backside, lino and start signalling”.
3) The vast majority of people only go to football so they can get really really cross about something. Give them a helping hand by adopting an irritating habit. You might bring a klaxon, phone up your mates on a mobile every five minutes and hilariously pretend to be John Motson commentating on the match, or simply get up and go to the lavatory just when a corner is about to be taken.
4) Or betters still adopt a few key phrases and shout them randomly throughout the game. Try to make them technical sounding yet senseless: “Our forwards just aren’t working the big slots”, “We need to get more conscious in the third phase”, “We’ve gone baggy in the drop off zone” that sort of thing.
1) Always bear in mind that at football matches you must do everything in advance to “avoid the rush” – even if it’s just the rush of people doing things in advance. So if you plan to eat at halftime leave your seat at least ten minutes before the whistle. You may miss goals and action, but you will get your offal, nose and throat in a bun quicker and force people on your row to stand up and let you through and that’s what counts.
2) Never offer any appreciation for the half-time entertainment. Whether it is a primary school penalty prize, a junior dance troupe from a local care home, or an internationally renowned opera singer simply stare at them with blank indifference and then as they leave the pitch remark in a loud voice, “Well, what the hell was that in aid of?”
3) If you go to the lavatory always take a drink or some food in with you. Remember, as long as you’ve got one hand free you can still eat a hotdog. And don’t whatever you do wash your hands afterwards. You don’t want people thinking you’re some kind of hygiene-obsessed sicko.
1) For a little variety you might like to select a member of the opposition to subject to a series of ribald witticisms. Bald players or those who have just gone through a well- publicised marital break up are particularly amusing. Everyone appreciates the man who starts the “If you’ve shagged his wife stand up” chant, especially when he’s sitting in the family enclosure.
2) The most important question you must address in the second half is when to leave. You have two choices: you can leave five minutes early to “get away before the traffic”, or you can stay to the bitter end and then hang around the players tunnel to make rude hand signals to the opposition’s coach driver. Whichever choice you take you must stick to it no matter what is happening on the field. Only the most irresolute or feckless fan bases the decision on when to leave the ground on how the match is progressing.
3) As the game goes on you may like to add to the mounting tension. Every time the opposition cross the halfway line say, “This looks dangerous” or “They’ve got men over, here”.
4) No matter what the score greet the final whistle by yelling “£18 to watch that crap, I must be mental”.
Leaving The Ground
Whether you go early or stay to the end one or two important points of etiquette must be observed.
1) Always bounce down the steps rapidly, as if you have just remembered you’ve have left the oven on.
2) At some point remark loudly yet gnomically to a stranger next to you “I’ll not give him long after that result” and then look away as if you weren’t really talking to him at all.
3) Always step out onto busy roads without looking. You are part of a football crowd and traffic has to stop for you. It’s the law.