Football fans. Real football fans. Close your eyes. Picture them. What do you see? The loud, obnoxious, boorish lout smashing up a town centre? A nerdy geek who knows every single stat about every single player ever? The dribbling simpleton who is incapable of speaking about anything other than football?
Yeah, some of us are like that, it’s true. Yet so many of us are not. In fact, I’d argue that the silent majority of us are completely different to the images portrayed above. So who are we? What defines us? What makes us who and what we are?
I first got into football around age 8. I have the briefest memories of the 1982 World Cup, but not enough to convince myself I actually got it at the age of 5. I do remember the 1985 FA Cup Final though, and the 1986 World Cup was the defining moment in my football life. That Quarter-Final between Brazil and France captured me in a way that nothing has before or since. The fact that the colours were so vivid, the sun was so bright, the football was superb, the match was so dramatic and yet there was something else….I can’t put my finger on it, a certain je ne sais quoi about that game. I didn’t know the players really. I was aware that the Zico lad was a big deal, and the Platini fella seemed important, but those details didn’t matter to me. This was just magic.
I may be outing myself as being a real oddball here, but ever since, I have found that I am able to track my life through football matches. Should I ever have a near-death experience (and with Dejan Lovren playing for Liverpool, that may be any day now, the heart-attack inducing muppet), then the events of my life will be mingled with the football matches that occurred around the same time:
1987 – I remember that our living room was dark as we closed the curtains to keep the beautiful sunny day from shining a glare on the screen. Liverpool lost the League Cup Final to Arsenal. It was the first time that Ian Rush had scored for Liverpool and then lost the match. My Dad was an Arsenal fan. Our relationship was never the same again.
1988 – I was in my neighbour’s house to watch the FA Cup Final. I have no idea why. I cried. I really cried. Life was truly cruel to me for the very first time. The Crazy Gang beat The Culture Club, and I struggled to cope. My Dad told me that there was always next year, and luckily for him, he was right. I can’t say that to my kids anymore.
1988 – I was home alone. My family had gone out as a relative had a car malfunction, and needed help. Ireland beat England at Euro ’88. I was excited and pleased, but I didn’t really get the significance. I was in my cousin’s house when Ronnie Whelan ‘shinned’ one in against Russia. I was in a neighbour’s house when Holland knocked us out. Yet another living room with the curtains drawn. I remember at least 3 grown men swearing openly in front of me for the first time.
1989 – The family house was gutted by fire (everyone was OK thankfully) in May. That was upsetting. However, I distinctly remember crying a lot more when Michael Thomas appeared in my life a week later.
1990 – I was a proud ‘Full-Kit Wanker’ as Italia 90 sprang to life. I was 13 too, and should have been old enough to know better. I still cringe at the thought. The Westpark Hotel was the venue for the greatest football time of my life. England/Egypt/Holland/Romania/Italy. Sheedy/Quinn/Bonner/O’Leary. Legends. If you weren’t in Ireland at that time, you will never understand what happened in this country. It will never happen again. Hundreds of people crammed into a function room, curtains drawn (naturally), a LARGE TV in the corner (how sophisticated). We had to get there 3 hours before kick-off just to get a good seat. No way were we watching any of this at home.
1998 – Every man remembers fondly when he had that ‘purple patch’ as a single man. When every chat-up line worked, and you were bullet-proof. Yeah, France ’98 was that time for me. I scored more than Ronaldo (the fat one). Glory days.
2000 – A year in Australia. A scramble to see Liverpool all over that continent. I left the Sydney Mardi Gras to watch Liverpool at Old Trafford (with THAT Patrick Berger free-kick). I still don’t regret it. 4am in the lobby of a hostel in Perth with 10 or so other ‘football fans’ to see Liverpool lose at Arsenal (Lauren, you b*stard). Watching England blow a 2-goal lead v Portugal at 3am is an experience I will never forget.
2001 – A call to tell me that a close relative had passed away. Liverpool were losing away at Bolton after Westerveld had dropped a clanger. You might say this is insensitive, I’m just telling you what was happening when the call came through. I admit I was upset at the news, but also at the timing of the news….
2005 – First house. The Road To Istanbul. First Confession for my eldest was the night of the 2nd leg for Liverpool v Leverkusen. Forgive me father, for I sinned throughout that evening, swearing that I couldn’t watch, and praying to you for a Milan Baros goal. You must have heard me though.
2005 – Marriage. Honeymoon. Finding Real Betis v Liverpool on the TV in a Los Angeles hotel room. I’m not saying THAT was the highlight, but I think you get my point. If you’re a real football fan you will.
2008 – Second child arrives. The first time I ever made him cry was when Stevie G lashed home a late winner at home to Middlesbrough in August at Anfield. He was 4 months old. I woke him with a yelp that could not be contained. I should feel guilty. I don’t. No, he’s not called Steven, or Stevie, or Gerrard, or anything like that.
I believe that this is what makes a true football fan. It’s not just a game, or a hobby, or an interest. It’s part of us. It’s with us always, when real life is good and when real life kicks you in the crotch…and THAT is why each of those moments in my life detailed above are accompanied by memories of football matches. When I was feeling up, football helped me soar into ecstasy. When I was feeling down, it was always there for me. It’s a crutch in many ways – an outlet to get away from it all when required. That’s why summers without a European Championship or a World Cup are so damn scary.
Let me know what you think – am I like you, or am I the oddball I feared I would be at the start of this article? Don’t leave a brother hanging here…