That was the week that was

8 10 2012

In the summer there was a week in which I went to five matches in five different locations. Here’s what happened.

Chester 2 Bangor City 2

They say that football isn’t as good as it used to be, they say footballers have cut themselves off from mere mortals. They say footballers used to use public transport before they went to live in solid gold palaces. Today I found out that “they” were wrong; I caught the same train as one of Chester’s players. My travelling companion was Marc Williams the ex-Wales u21s player. Mind you Marc is a player that I’ve actually played football with so “they” were bound to be wrong.

An international friendly is always a lovely prospect as it provides the possibilities of beautiful moments of cross-cultural exchange. For example we were walking past Tesco and a group of scallies that were following us deciding to serenade us with “We all hate Welsh scum, We all hate Welsh Scum!!!”. Without an international I would not have been serenaded!!  Thankfully I made it to the ground without being assaulted by Blacon’s finest.

The match was a wet blanket. Bangor scored the first goal, Chester equalised and then went in front with the last kick of the first half. Bangor equalised with the last kick of the match. That was about it really. The only other thing worth mentioning was Chester’s simulating full back. When you see a player from two divisions below the football league diving something may be wrong with the heart of football.

Millwall 2 Crawley Town 2
(Crawley won on Penalties)
Capital One Cup (League Cup in old money)

During 1980s and ‘90s the word “Millwall” was shorthand for “trouble”. Evidence such as Luton Town v Millwall in 1985, Millwall v Rhyl in 1988 and the infamous 1970s documentary “Doctor Martens I presume” – a programme that infamously starred the very infamous Insane Clown Posse and the even more infamous Docklands Bicycle Thieves – was used to say that Millwall were natural thugs.

This idea was a gross simplification. I’d suggest that Millwall only became the archetypal name for football thuggery because the media is controlled by wankers. If you want proof of this ask yourself why programmes like “Mrs. Brown’s Boys” exist.

Thankfully I’m more broadminded and imaginative than the writers of shite sitcoms. When I think of Millwall I think of Danny Baker, local authority sponsorship, Spall Kits, Eamon Dunphy’s “Only a Game” and one of Granddad’s lines in Only Fools and Horses. When I saw that I had the chance to go and watch Millwall at home in the League Cup my heart skipped a beat

I spent the day of the match trying to find the statue of Nelson Mandela and buying foreign language films. I thought it would be prudent to get a train towards South Bermondsey at 6 pm.

My first view of Millwall was a group of Policeman. My second view of Millwall was a large metal fence with nasty spikes. The fence shook me from broadmindedness. I was suddenly hyper-aware of where I was going. The claustrophobia brought on by narrow, fence-enclosed path to wasn’t pleasant.

When I finally reached the street I didn’t notice many people on their way to a football match. I’m the sort of chap that likes to get a proper taste of the environs of football grounds when there’s a match so getting a 6 pm train probably wasn’t as prudent as I first thought.

I thought I’d gambled safely with my attire; a blue Bangor City polo (I assumed I could get away with a blue shirt) made by the same manufacturer that Millwall use but within 30 seconds of seeing people I’d been sussed as a stranger around these parts. They took one look at the badge on my shirt, one look at me and……well, let’s put it this way, I can tell a smouldering look when I see one. It wasn’t the words, nobody spoke to me, it was the look that when straight to my soul. The Panama hat and jaunty silk scarf were an obvious mistake. This was a blow.

I thought I’d find shelter from harsh gazes in the club shop, where I was able to add to my collection of luxury fridge magnets, and the charming Millwall Café that was straight from the pages of an Only Fools and Horses script, where I bought a Snickers and a can of Coke, but I felt the smouldering again. Aha!! A tour of the ground was called for! Three minutes later I felt a tour of the local area was in order. After about 5 minutes in a glorified trading estate I thought it might be prudent to venture inside the ground.

There are several ways to look at going in early to a football ground. It saves one from aggro, it kills time, it’s an opportunity to see what a steadily filling ground looks like. I see it as an opportunity to find a piece of serenity. It’s amazing just how quickly one floats off. If I had brought my glasses I would have read the programme but you can’t have everything. Thankfully the Announcer had access to a good record library. He also had a few funny lines;

“Remember you can pop along to the club shop for the new kit, I say that but they probably won’t have your size”

“Don’t forget that we have to have a result tonight so it may go to penalties, and if it does go that far we’ll probably lose”

In a football world full of bombast it’s nice to hear a bit of self-deprecation. Thanks to the announcer it didn’t seem long before the teams were walking out for the kick off.

The match was typical fare, misplaced passes, overhit passes, some shots, a goalkeeper’s shirts without a number, the usual stuff. Crawley scored first. Millwall equalised before half time. Crawley scored again in the second half and Millwall equalised late in the match. There weren’t any further goals in extra time and Millwall lost on penalties. The announcer was right. Although this looks like the bare bones there wasn’t really much more to the match action. I found being part of the crowd was interesting enough anyway.

Before the match I  had the sense that Millwall FC was an expression of a proud local community, I knew that the Millwall parts of the ground wouldn’t be quite the den of villainy that the “well-known” image suggested. My experience confirmed these ideas, there weren’t any tattooed psychos or clobber-wearing geezers,  just a lot of local people watching their local community in action.  There weren’t many football tourists seduced by the glamour of an oligarch-funded champions league contender either. Speaking of the disturbing effects of trans-national capital.  I could see one of the centres of global capitalism, Canary Wharf, from where I was sitting.

If I had to label the language I heard during the match I would say it was a “bit fruity”. Suffice to say if you don’t like hearing the word “Cunt” bellowed don’t go to a match in the New Den. A bloke near me used the word as punctuation. Nobody was spared the label, the opposition players, the opposition fans, the referee, the linesmen, Kenny Jackett. By the end of the match I was calling everybody a “Useless Caaaahnt” too.

I was disappointed by the result of the match because I wanted Crawley to get hammered. I solely wanted their fucking fans to feel defeat. They thought clichéd banter through irritatingly overused songs like “We pay your benefits” and “Championship, you’re having a laugh” would force any sensible person to wish them defeat. The Crawley fans have obviously  succumbed to the easy path; the easy to say insult while undergoing a rapid period of ascent. One of the side-effects of this approach is forgetting your inconvenient past, i.e. being a non-league club two years ago or Steve Evans playing an integral part in your inexorable  rise. Mind you it can’t be easy when most fans still thinking of you as a non-league club with a bit of money. If I was a Crawley fan I’d be a little more circumspect until I’ve been around a bit longer.

There are few things worse in football than a giddy arriviste with a lairy attitude. If I were them I’d read a bit more philosophy regarding the nature of “success”. I’d ask them to think of the wheel  as Tony Wilson may have once said. Yeah think of a wheel Crawley fans, and start singing songs about your own side.

The rest of my stay in London was pleasantly uneventful.

Wales Under 21s 0 Armenia Under 21s 1
European Under 21s Championship qualifier

I spent the night after the Millwall match watching Wales’ under 21 side lose. Although this is not an unknown concept it was a very dispiriting evening for a couple of reasons; firstly Wales’ Under 21 side had been rather good until recently, secondly there were 314 people in the crowd. Yes, Three Hundred and Fourteen people. Three Hundred and Fourteen people turned up to watch an international match. It seems odd to think that the FAW hasn’t stopped to think that scheduling two international matches for the same time probably isn’t such a good idea but that’s the FAW for you.  I had a reasonable time anyway.

Bangor City 2 Connah’s Quay Nomads 1
Welsh Premier League

The club shop had finally moved to a more sales-conducive position, good news. The match was a bit of a damb squib, as they say, bad news. During the match there was every indication that Connah’s Quay were very capable of winning this match. Thankfully Bangor were awarded a penalty in the last couple of minutes so ended up winning. It’s always underwhelming to start the season in torrential rain rather than sun.

Rangers 5 East Stirlingshire 1
Scottish Football League Division 3

The WPL fixture list provided me with another opportunity to visit a city that was fast becoming one of my favourite places, Glasgow. Both Rangers and St. Mirren were at home on the Saturday.

I decided to go for the Rangers match, with St. Mirren as back up. I saw the Rangers match as an opportunity to do two things; I could laugh at Rangers’ predicament and I could conduct a sociological study about why Rangers fans are so abhorrent. Everyone should go under cover as a participant observer once in a while.

When I was finally able to buy a ticket for Ibrox I knew that I’d have to play safe with my attire as the environs of Ibrox are not the place to get caught wearing the wrong colour, and getting caught would compromise my study. I went for the 1986 Denmark shirt, a navy tracksuit top and red trainers.

My sartorial choice appeared wise when a Swansea fan came over to me in Llandudno Junction station. The Swansea fan was on his way to London to watch Swansea play QPR. My new friend took the two facts in front of him –  He was going to a ground where Swansea hadn’t won for years and I was wearing a shirt adorned with Michael Laudrup’s number – and surmised that their coexistence on this particular day foretold of good fotune. Hence I was given the title of lucky charm. It turns out I already knew Medwyn through twitter and Medwyn also knew people from Bangor. Unfortunately this was the last brush with human warmness for the rest of the day.

My train journey was fine until just after we passed Motherwell. I needed the toilet and passed a bloke in the buffet car on the way to it. He eyed my shirt suspiciously. When I passed him again he enquired about my shirt “It’s an old Denmark shirt” said I. “I hope it’s no’ a Celtic shirt” said he. I hadn’t even reached Glasgow and I’d been plagued by a Gobshite that didn’t know much about the club he hated, when have Celtic played in red?

When I sat down I suddenly realised what I was doing and where I was going, dramatic music filled my head. I was never going to make the same allowances for Rangers as I had for Millwall. When I saw my first large groups of Rangers fans the dramatic music became louder, not even the pleasant young lady in Greggs could take the edge off my trepidation.

The underground to Ibrox was hardly a joy, packed, cramped and roasting hot thanks to singing Rangers fans. The fresh air outside Ibrox’s underground station didn’t bring relief; I was part of a massive crowd that was walking slowly past screeching merchandise hawkers on roads embellished with copious amounts of horse shit  (when you don’t got to matches with large corwds as often as you used to you forget about things like horse shit all over the road.). I was stuck behind a women in a union flag pac-a-mac and Loyalist paraphernalia seemed to be everywhere. As I queued for my ticket I started to feel genuinely uncomfortable.

I desperately tried to remember that Rangers was a famous historical club and it wasn’t hard to do this as the evidence was everywhere; from the size of the ground to the edifice of the main stand, from the statue of John Greig to the stalls selling historic programmes.  When I heard two blokes chatting about car insurance in the ticket queue I thought “Oh Rangers fans are just normal people”.

As I was feeling overjoyed about thinking Rangers fans were just normal a bloke with a flag depicting the Battle of the Boyne walked past. Then I walked past more stalls selling RAF flags and Loyalist flags and scarves commemorating World War One regiments. Who the fuck would buy this kind of thing to show their support for a football club? Taking an RAF flag to a match as a symbol of support for your club? I believe the correct phrase is, What the Fuck?

It wasn’t just the memorabilia that was off-putting, there was something about the atmosphere. When I took photos I felt stares boring in to me. When I walked around I avoided the twats with puffed up walking stride, the men intoxicated by the heady cocktail of testosterone, perceived injustice and belligerence. Other people just pushed past me, or avoided eye contact as they walked in to me. By the turnstiles I let two blokes go past me I didn’t receive acknowledgement, not even a flicker.

Ibrox looks like a dilapidated Villa Park on the outside but when you get on the inside you realise that it’s  a rather good venue for football. Ibrox looks massive on the inside. It was mostly full by the time I got there.

Due to my chronic knees I always buy a ticket on the end of a row as this make stretching limbs a bit easier. The Rangers ticket office had led me to believe that I’d bought a ticket on the end of a row. When I got to the correct row I saw that my seat was actually in the middle of it. Curses! It’s not only the comfort I like about the end of a row it means I don’t have to push past people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as dainty as a ballet dancer when I have to move past people in a confined space I just don’t like seeing the visible effect I seem to have on people when I turn up at their row.

I sense the frostiness when a conversation is interrupted , I see the disgust when a person has to stop reading their programme, I feel the annoyance when lids are replaced on polystyrene cups and a safe resting place requiring a stretch is needed. The only reward for offering thanks is a clipped and obviously insincere “It’s alright!”. When I finally reached my seat today I decided that I would rather piss myself than push past people again.

The match was preceded by a little tub-thumping from Rangers’ new chairman. From one angle he hit the right notes; Rangers did have a full house even though they’d been demoted, maybe this was a testament to the loyalty of Rangers fans, maybe they were the greatest fans ever. From another angle it was needless playing to the galleries. Today was always going to be a sell-out as the match was an ideal opportunity for Rangers fans to stick two fingers up at everybody they perceived to be against them, all they had to do was turn up.

During the first few minutes of the match I couldn’t help but notice the Rangers Ultras “The Union Bears” as they were making a fair old noise. From my point of view the match got off to the best possible start; East Stirlingshire scored from a penalty. For the next 15 minutes East Stirlingshire looked very composed as they stroked the ball around, their attackers looked particularly composed as they showed an exquisite touch.

After 15 minutes reality intervened and Rangers scored 5 goals in 75 minutes. In the light of the facts this shouldn’t be surprising. Rangers had players with SPL experience, East Stirlingshire had part-time players that visibly tired in the August sun.

The positive feeling that came from being in one of the historic places of British football lasted roughly 10 minutes.. For all the noise and colour, I found the Ibrox experience very uncomfortable. Firstly you know a crowd is not on your socialist, anti-monarchy wavelength when “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia” are belted out as celebratory tunes.

I found uncomfortable things almost everywhere I looked; union flags proudly displaying the word Loyal, the Union Bears and their “No Surrender” banners, the excessive amounts of Team GB merchandise, the gusto-filled renditions of “We are the People”. Celebrating the outcome of a 322 year battle, anti-Catholic prejudice and the idea that Britain once ruled the waves is such a retrograde and reactionary stance. Where’s the hope, the humanity, the desire to make society better? It’s depressing to think that a person actually wants to display such reactionary symbols. It’s bad enough if they do it in order to differentiate themselves from, or antagonise, Celtic fans. If they actually believe in the symbols well, contempt just isn’t strong enough.

By the end of the match I felt as though I was surrounded by defiant people in defiant blue shirts and defiant blue scarves. I  saw an almost symbiotic connection between the defiant blueness and reactionary ideas. I wondered how anyone would conclude that there wasn’t a widespread  tolerance, if not acceptance, of reactionary symbols.

These thoughts were really depressing because between about 2 and 5 I’d been surrounded by ordinary looking people wearing blue. On the way out I noticed a few “cool and hip” people and very attractive people, even model-esque, people in blue. Without the blueness I’m sure I wouldn’t have given them a second thought. With their blue shirts and scarves, or orange polos, they became reactionary in my eyes. They must accept reactionary ideas on some level otherwise why would they go to Rangers matches wearing the clothes they wore?

As I walked to the underground station it was a relief to see shirts displaying messages celebrating Rangers’ European success in 1972 on the back. I was glad Rangers had won as I’d hate to leave Ibrox as part of a dissatisfied crowd. Incidentally I saw a bloke outside Glasgow Central station wearing a scarf dedicated to the world war one regiment, at least I knew the sort of cunt that buys this memorabilia now.

On the train back I thought I was safe from all this shit, there was only a young father and son sitting opposite me. Then a group of slapheads from the Midlands took their seats. I had to listen to their tales of lairy adventures around Europe with Rangers. After a while I felt as though I was sat near the polite section of the EDL. At some point in the journey I found a Rangers fanzine on a seat, considering the fact that Rangers are the world record holders for the amount of league titles won there was an awful lot of paranoia within its pages.

In a funny way, I’m glad I went as I know I’ll never have a more disgusting experience as a football fan. In other news, Swansea won 5-1 so I was officially a lucky mascot.




One response

9 10 2012
Godric Gryffindor (@iHorror)

Visit Glasgow again. This time buy yourself a ticket for Celtic – Barcelona. It might be a little more pricey than a Division 3 ticket involving part time players, however, the experience will be the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
Many people wrongly label Celtic fans, in my opinion. Yes, we celebrate our Irish roots, as we are proud of our foundations. When your club was set up to provide for those less fortunate than other and, 125 years later, continues this tradition… who wouldn’t?
The atmosphere inside is almost like a massive house party. Singing and dancing for a full 90 minutes… incredible.
I’ve been with a few friends who weren’t Celtic fans, who also openly admitted inside the stadium that they weren’t Celtic fans, but who were also pretty overwhelmed at how welcome they were made to feel. Needless to say they have started regularly attending games at Celtic Park….

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