Saturday, 23 January 2016


As Austin Baird pointed out in his comment on the last post, my statement that things could only get better weatherwise proved about as accurate as a Gareth Southgate penalty. Last week even the games that had been moved to Consett's 3G pitch were postponed - snow and ice the cause rather than water.

As a consequence, the nearest I got to any football over the past fortnight was on a meandering train journey back from Glasgow to Carlisle that took me past the grounds of Auchinleck Talbot and Glenafton Athletic - and very romantic they looked too in the snow and mist.

I had been north of the border to give a couple of talks to the Cricket Society of Scotland, the first in Glasgow, the next in Edinburgh. My host on the latter occasion was a Burnley fan who had the singular distinction of having served as Wisden's correspondent on St Helena for several years.

Back home, and with no football to go to, I filled my Saturday listening to Test Match Special. Neil Manthorpe's spontaneous response to the first of James Taylor's catches - 'I'm practically speechless - and in this job that's something of a disadvantage.' made me laugh so loud I nearly fell out of my chair.

The commentary of Manthorpe and the rest of the TMS team were exemplary throughout the day. The same cannot be said of 5Live's football coverage which these days is so hectoring in tone Ian Wright increasingly sounds like a force of moderation.

To return to TMS: I have taken so much pleasure out of listening to cricket on the radio over the years that this has become - along with reading about it - my favourite means of enjoying the game.

Here's something I wrote on a similar(ish) topic for WSC a couple of years ago. 

A few months ago I was travelling in the Middle East with a photographer who was an obsessive follower of football. The photographer was in his mid-twenties. He watched matches on his iPhone, downloaded podcasts and had an assortment of aps that brought news, views and images plinking into his screen.

The photographer said he followed Arsenal. I asked if he got to the Emirates much. He shrugged, “I went once, but I didn’t really like it without the replays and the analysis. I see it more as a TV thing, you know?”

I said that increasingly I felt completely the opposite. I love going to football but I hardly watch it on the television at all. Because frankly, without the cold, the damp, the smell of fried onions and some bloke with an elaborate comb-over and a monkey-shit brown car coat yelling “Hells Bells, where’s our width?” every thirty seconds” I just can’t concentrate on the match.

“I suppose,” the photographer said, “You’re more of a genuine supporter”.

I gave him a look which I hope conveyed wry amusement at this touching display of naivety. For he was, of course, making a common mistake. He was confusing people who have been going regularly to football matches for many years with the genuine supporters when, in fact, the genuine supporters are quite a separate group altogether.

The genuine supporters are always in a pack. They are young, male, clad in jackets made from animal hide and wearing such quantities of Lynx Africa body spray that sitting down wind of them is like experiencing a CS gas attack. The genuine supporters arrive two minutes before kick-off.  Stuck in a queue to get to their seats they rail against the injustice of it all, "Chocker with bloody part-timers again. They're edging the genuine supporters out".

The genuine supporters support their team by their presence and the occasional gruff yell of "Crack him one, Yazza", but mainly by spending the equivalent of the GNP of Latvia at the catering outlets. To be a genuine supporter requires iron discipline and the intestines to match. You must get up out of your seat every fifteen minutes to acquire a fresh sack of flaccid chips, hamburger which oozes rust-coloured slime, or one of those deep-fried apple pies which, like some cunning marine mollusc, responds to be being bitten by ejaculating poisonous goo into the eyes of its assailant. Or the hair of the person in front.

Through frequent trips for victuals and the lavatory the genuine supporter cunningly circumvents the ban on standing and is on his feet throughout the game. This is not without inconvenience to the people around him, but nobody complains. They know that to do so is useless. Even the politest request that he sit still for a few minutes is met with a dead-eyed stare and the inevitable inquiry, "Where were you at Plymouth away in 1989, pal?" possibly followed by that deadliest and most profound of all English insults, “You’re all middle class, you lot”.

Becoming a genuine supporter is quite simply impossible for most of us, it is a young man’s game and if you have not done any self-righteous jostling by the time you are sixteen you might as well forget it.

Luckily getting older has some compensations. For example, I am currently giving serious consideration to becoming a codger. One thing I might do, for instance, is become fixated on a particular area of the field in which I feel the home team is deficient and shout about it throughout the game, usually in a tone of pained exasperation preceded by the kind of high-pitched groan you let out when you stuff a handful of salt and vinegar crisps in your mouth while simultaneously remembering that you have a mouth ulcer. "Why don’t we work the channels?"

Alternatively, I might choose to repeat use an arcane phrase, possibly of my own devising. A few years ago at a Northern League game I stood next to a man with the gnarled and twisted appearance of a bonsai tree who greeted each opposition goal kick by bawling, "Somebody sit on the flicker". What this meant I have no idea, but I have since used it myself on several occasions since, usually to the approving nods of those around me.

A more bold and dramatic step is to single out a home player and hurl insults at him week in and week out regardless of how well or badly he is playing. To really make an impression you don’t select the worst player on the team, you go for the best.  My grandfather used to recall with some merriment a man in the Chicken Run at Ayresome Park who spent fifteen years abusing the great George Camsell.  "Camsell, you couldn't trap a bucket of rivets," the man would bellow, "Camsell, our lass is quicker than you with a sack of coal on her back”".  Each game someone would come to Camsell's defence. "He scored 59 goals last season," they'd shout. To which the man would respond with withering scorn, "Well, that’s what he’s paid for, isn’t it?"

I explained all this to the photographer. He smiled and nodded thoughtfully throughout. It was only later I realised he had his headphones in and was listening to James Richardson.





  1. I've realised only recently that there is one phrase I shout several times during every game. My leitmotif at The Valley is a throaty, exasperated, "Get HOLD of it!" They never bloody do though, do they? They never bloody do.

  2. One of the great human divisions is between those who yell 'Time! Time!' and those who bellow 'Get rid of it!'