Most Wondrous Welsh Football Sporting Thing and so on….
We’re having a football-themed magazine, they said. We’d like you to write your column about football, they said.
A football column? Me? Don’t I get enough of that at home? And at a time when there is so much else requiring my attention. The ongoing soap opera that is the state of British politics. The ongoing stress that is the disaffection of our precious junior doctors. The ongoing destruction of our NHS.
But I’ll try to, because, if nothing else, I’m always keen to please. Plus it’s not like I don’t know a little bit about the beautiful game, is it? Though, as I’ve often been moved to comment down the long-suffering decades, what’s beautiful about it, I don’t know.
So, having established my credentials as someone amply equipped to say nothing of any note or expertise about football, I shall endeavour to deliver.
But what’s to say? It’s often mooted, disparagingly, that football is nothing more than a bunch of grown men kicking a ball around a patch of grass and that there is little in the way of fun in that. It’s not like there’s any particular point to it, is there? It’s also said (in some quarters – I’ll keep mum to protect the innocent) that a slavish devotion to a football team (yes, that’s you, men) is one of the key precursors to relationship disharmony. And don’t we know it? Women everywhere (well, bar that curious minority who would be watching football even if they were all alone in the house and Sewing Bee/Brian Cox/Downton Abbey was on the other channel) will know precisely what it’s like to get growled at for standing in front of a television set during a goal. (Like – durrrr – we could actually predict such a random event? Seems the teams can’t even do that half the time.) They will also know – this is a cert once you’ve reached a certain age, ladies – the extent of the opprobrium that can be heaped on a fellow human for arranging a wedding, a birthday party, or – heaven forbid – your anniversary, during a key footballing date.
But there’s nothing big and clever about coming over all big and clever. As a gender, we women like decorative cushions, after all. And if you do count a football fan in your circle of loved ones, you will understand that there is no point in even thinking about making changes. As with puppies, a fan’s for life, not just for Christmas.
Unless the fan is made of plastic, that is. This is a new one on me, learned just this very week, and refers, as you’d expect, to the fair-weather fan. To the lightweight. The one who wouldn’t dream of owning a season ticket, much less endure the privations of true football-fandom, such as twenty-seven hour coach journeys, lubricated only by blind faith and Doritos and lager, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous football fortune. The one – oh, the shameless affrontery of such people – who supports a team that’s based a LONG WAY AWAY. Manchester United, for example, when you live in Tunbridge Wells. Or Liverpool, from a small gite in Deauville. The one who pops up, like an opportunistic weed beside a motorway, when conditions look reliably set fair.
Such fans, I’ve observed lately, are currently in abundance. Appearing right, left and centre. Wearing red, clearing diaries, and rearranging their entire schedules, in their zeal to get involved in the action.
Involved in this, the Most Amazing Welsh Moment of Enormous Sporting Historical Significance and General Wonderfulness (or something) in which a modest team of men from a small unassuming country have just proven – so emphatically – that certain things we mostly doubt, given the events of the past fortnight, might still just be true.
That team work, and commitment, and kinship, and courtesy, and hard slog, and talent, and self-belief and respect, have the power to not only prevail and inspire, but to transform the mood of an entire society.
So if you are a true fan, and you’re niggled by all us Johnny-come-latelies (with our pub-clogging, name-muddling, tickets-to-the–capital’s-Fan-Zone-gobbling ways) consider this.
That to unite an entire country, to have strangers hugging one another in the street, to invoke a pride that is national, without being destructive or aggressive, to inspire patriotism in such a way that it’s our hearts, rather than our chests, that have been beating – now THAT’S something to be cherished.
Well done our Wales Team. You have made everyone so proud.
And you have made football beautiful after all.
First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, 9th July 2016