There are many things we miss about football, but for Nick Miller it boils down to a couple of contrasting elements…
It’s been 39 days since there was any top-level domestic football in England, and it’s all getting quite weird now. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already started to get pangs for the absolute low-points in my football-watching life.
I’ve been yearning for the odd microclimate of the Bet365 Stadium, which can make Stoke feel like Siberia. The time I stood on the open, crumbling terrace at Belle Vue, Doncaster’s old ground, in the pissing rain to watch my team Nottingham Forest lose with Grant Holt on the left wing, feels like a golden age. I would guzzle down the game a few years earlier when Forest were torn a new one by Dele Adebola at Coventry, a performance so bad that Gary Megson tried to flip over the dressing room massage table at half-time, but it was too heavy and he couldn’t move it.
Of course, we’re all missing football. We’re missing the good stuff, the indifferent stuff, the niche stuff, the weird stuff, the boring stuff, even now the bad stuff. We’re missing goals; the smell of frying onions mixing in a heady combination with horse shit; slide tackles; the building excitement when you see the ground you’re heading towards for the first time; Martin Tyler saying “AND IT’S LIVE”; Phil Jones’s face; Liverpool heading into the 89th minute a goal down but somehow coming away with a win; Gary Lineker making a wry quip and smiling to himself about it; VAR! Christ, we’re probably missing VAR.
We’re missing the personal relationships football enhances, the minutiae that fascinates us more than it probably should, the the warm blanket of nostalgia it provides, which allows us to remember all of the best bits of a particular time and romanticise it.
But I think what we’re missing the most boils down to two things. One is the familiarity, the comfort of it always being there, knowing that you’re only usually a few days away from a game at most. The quality of the football or the success of your team is secondary, as long as it’s there.
Fever Pitch gets a bad rep these days, and in some respects rightly so, but Nick Hornby was right when he wrote that the idea of your football team always letting you down by being useless was wrong, because they’re always there. The point is you can rely on sport, not that it was necessarily good or all about winning: 90 per cent of us wouldn’t bother if it was about winning. It’s about football just being there, at worst a reliable wallpaper to our lives, background music that sometimes charges into the foreground. If it’s not there, then an un-fillable void exists.
The second is moments. There are any number of reasons why we might all go to watch football, but a large portion of it is chasing a moment. Most of us have at least one glorious, unrepeatable moment following football, when the catharsis is so exhilarating that you spend the rest of your life chasing it, trying to feel like that again. It might be the Manchester United fan who was in Barcelona in 1999; the Liverpool fan in Istanbul in 2005; the Carlisle supporter who watched Jimmy Glass score in 1999.
For me, it was an ostensibly run of the mill Championship match in 2015, when Forest scored a 93rd minute winner to beat Derby County. It was about more than just a late victory versus a hated rival, but about my dad and a confluence of events unconnected to football that combined to make it perfect. I wrote about it a few years ago for the Set Pieces, an indulgence for which I thank the then editor for allowing me. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like that again at a football game, but I won’t stop trying to.
These moments are why people entirely miss the point when they say Fernando Torres was a waste of money for Chelsea. For those fans at the top of the Nou Camp on that night in 2012 – hell, even those Chelsea fans watching at home or in a bar or wherever – his goal against Barcelona was worth absolutely every penny of the £50million they spent on him. The release, the catharsis: they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives, and they’ll feel emotional every time they do. You can’t ask for much than that.
When football is around, there exists the possibility for one of those moments. They might be rare, but that’s the point: if they happened every week then they wouldn’t be so special. But you go in hope that it will happen today: maybe, maybe, today is when we will see something really special.
It will be back one day, but for the moment it’s all so uncertain and empty. We have been denied the constant, rock solid reliability of football just being there, and also the long-shot hope that this might be the day, might be the game we remember for the rest of our lives. For now, we’re all wandering around in a sort of open-ended daze, just waiting for the currently unknown day when football returns.
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