MY son and I take his friend to his first ever football match. The friend, who is older, taller and therefore cooler than my son, is immediately reduced to slack-jawed awe.
That’s before we even get to our seats — it’s the queues and the prices that leave him speechless. Football used to be a pursuit of the common man — being a middle-class woman I wouldn’t know much about that but what I do know is that it is not a cheap day out.
HOW MUCH? asks son’s friend in astonishment as I hand over a week’s wages for two packets of crisps and a terrible coffee. HOW MUCH? he gasps again as we throng into the supporters’ shop before the game, to ogle the hats, scarves, gloves, kits, books, dvds, branded chocolate bars, branded babygros, limited edition hoodies, framed photographs of every striker who ever played for the team, and a separate section crammed with all of the above, except in pink, for the girlie supporters who can’t handle the idea of not wearing pink even for 90 minutes.
A Glaswegian friend, a lifelong Celtic supporter, tuts impatiently when I complain that I thought football was for thugs, whereas in reality it’s full of nice polite dads who can afford season tickets. “If you’d ever been on the terraces in the ’70s with drunk men killing each other and weeing everywhere, you’d be glad of those poncey middle class fans,” she says. “At least these days you get a comfy seat and a vegetarian pie.”
She’s right of course. But just because there aren’t riots on the terraces anymore doesn’t mean it’s gone soft. It’s still tens of thousands of blokes all together, roaring and singing and effing and blinding as one. It’s joyously uncomplicated and utterly exhilarating. Plus it’s the only place I can think of where the queue for the women’s loos is shorter than the men’s, and where the men are totally disinterested in any women present because they are too busy watching the other men — the 22 on the pitch chasing the ball.
Our side scores within the first ten minutes, to the huge delight of 19,000 blokes — and the misery of a few hundred away fans behind the other goal, who are mercilessly goaded throughout (“Who ARE YA, who ARE YA” etc). I overhear my son explaining to his friend that we scored because the other side’s goalkeeper has buttered fingers. Oh right, nods the friend knowledgeably. Buttered fingers, yeah.
My son, like a defective printer sputtering out unstoppable data, goes all Rain Man on his friend and bombards him with goalkeeper facts. The friend’s eyes begin to glaze over. As he rat-a-tats his facts and figures, we score again. Leaping from my seat roaring and screaming and punching the air, I glance sideways and see my son’s friend — who has only ever seen me in domestic mummy mode — staring up at me in horror.
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