Leaving early then, where do you stand? Not in the walkways, ideally, because it wouldn’t be fair to obstruct the views of others, and the last thing you need as you slink away in shame faced embarrassment is to induce a kerfuffle with the stewards. And don’t think you’re fooling anybody with your half-hearted positional play and intermittent bursts of pace, either. If your team are labouring in the last minutes of a game long lost, the intention is to leave early, not imitate them.
Of course, it isn’t possible to establish a true consensus on the best method for leaving before the end because so few will ever admit to actually do it. People can just about imagine circumstances where it would be acceptable, a fire in your home, for example. But, even then, don’t you have neighbours with their own hose and bucket? It is a disdained practise and not only for its disloyalty – people baulk at the illogicality of the practise too. ‘Would you leave the cinema before the end?’ people ask, assuming your answer would be ‘no’ and not the infinitely more sensible answer that ‘yes, if I hadn’t realised that Kevin James was it before buying my ticket’.
And football, like cinema, for want of a more post-modern take on narrative, tends to store its juiciest twists for the end, meaning there’s little surface value logic to leaving early. Just as, fittingly enough, there’s little surface value logic to the twists at the end of most films. At least sneaking out (as the parlance would have it) at the cinema saves you the confused conversation in the lobby afterwards centring on why he agreed to go along with the heist in the first place if he had known all along that the safe cracker was working undercover. Football can’t be said to present such complexities of plot – which is to say that, if asked the final score by the person behind the counter at the chip shop, being unable to answer with any degree of certainty is going to see them question whether your money set aside for weekend recreation couldn’t be better invested.
So why do folk do it? Well, in special cases – usually in the North East – there’s the element of protest to consider. For some, it’s only one element in a whole production of a protest, and they accentuate their performance by throwing their season ticket in the direction of their manager and dug out as they exit. (If you’re planning this yourself, it is probably worth remembering that this is a much grander gesture if it’s done near the start of the season, so its message it a clear indicator to the higher ups at your level of frustration at the club’s direction, and not in May, when the higher ups may assume there’s a wedding in a fortnight that you can’t get out of). And, in protest, your action when leaving the ground must be purposeful, dominated by long strides; no hanging back on the stairs just until the attack breaks down. Even rats deserting a sinking ship don’t stop off by the televisions in the concourse to see what happens with this corner.
And there is special dispensation for people who actually do have to leave early to get to work – on a Saturday evening this will naturally involve a lot of doormen, and they will reward the patience you extend them at this junction by being similarly accommodating of your attempts to enter their place of work later that same evening while still wearing your club’s replica shirt. And some people do have trains to catch, of course. Though, for us, the transport argument is a harder sale than the working one. It would stand to reason that people would have to get home from the football, and that some of them will have to do it at staggered periods. Just as it stands to reason that, on occasion, somebody may be forced to travel through the night to visit a sick relative. That’s why crafty train manufacturers didn’t stop at one.
I must say, for all the reasons against it, the argument against leaving early that tugs hardest on the heartstrings is the one about it being unfair on the players. Because you do, don’t you… you do find yourself, on occasion and mostly at night, worrying about them? Their adorable little faces, their various sponsorship deals and their perfectly shaped girlfriends. And ninety minutes with us probably represents the longest and most meaningful relationship most of them have ever been involved in, even if there are fewer people in attendance at the match than the usual amount invited back to theirs from the nightclub. We should be careful around their feelings.
Consider, though, the fact that every ground in the country has their share of people leaving early and players, who remember spend most of their weekends in and around these stadiums (and no doubt occasionally catch the odd game on television too, provided it doesn’t clash with poker on the other side), have probably worked out to not take it too personally. We can always contribute double to the full time whip round for their tip at the next home game.
So never mind the players, the important person to worry about, be able to live with, is yourself. Guilt, cowardice, shame, these are all the emotions you are going to be forced to endure after abandonment tantamount to dereliction of duty, desertion even; these are the charges you will be forced have to level in your own direction as you trudge homeward bound. On the plus side, at least you will have a good seat on the bus home from which to consider them.