Football FanCast columnist Chris Mackin unveils some top tips for supporters to help them through the kind of dross that the Premier League has to offer.
By all accounts, Hull’s home match with Portsmouth on Saturday was a bad ‘un: “The worst game of football ever played in the history of mankind,” was one assessment.
This- along with Sam Allardyce’s evident disgust with his team trying to score goals and get back in the game at Stamford Bridge – has left us with that age old conundrum of what to do if, expecting a fun packed and exciting family day out at a top league game of association football, you, inadvertently, end up at The K.C Stadium or Ewood Park. Or the Reebok Stadium. (Or the Stadium of Light, St. Andrews or Villa Park.)
As ever, we are here to help:
Follow the example of the student at Salford University who used the lulls in plays at the Reebok Stadium during the 2006-2007 season to research, write, and correctly reference and footnote his final year dissertation. Now on the way to completing his PHD, he claims the serene surroundings of a Bolton Wanderers home game are a much quieter and relaxing working space than the University library, with fewer pretty girls with pony tails and loud people quoting Family Guy jokes in a Bristolian accent to distract him. See for yourself. Beware, though, of attempted cross field passes cracking the screen on your Laptop. And if your manager is one who prefers to go into games armed with a headset (which he most likely is given what we’re talking about) be prepared for the resulting interference to your wireless internet connection.
IPods are handy as well; Wu Tang Clan’s second album, Forever, is a two disk affair clocking in at roughly ninety minutes (if you skip through all the skits and U-God verses), or, if you’re feeling adventurous, how about ‘shuffle’- the wildly capricious nature of the game’s soundtrack will feel deliciously ironic and like your own cheeky little in joke as the ball trundles around midfield to one uninterested footballer after another. Never will a 0-0 at home to Stoke City feel as thrilling, nor a music selection as expertly apposed, as when you start it with ‘Bouncing off Clouds’ by Tori Amos and end it with ‘People=Shit’ by Slipknot.
Don’t be shy.
For most, the person next to them is somebody to half raise your eyebrow at as you take your seat at the start of the game and somebody to awkwardly touch legs with at intermitted (and, curiously, intimate) moments. Though some conversation may be offered, it should be barked sternly, with strict restrictions on eye contact and conversational barriers; anything more personal than double checking the identity of the opponent’s left back is probably stepping on toes, as a general rule. And actually stepping on his toes as you nip out at half time for a burger is unlikely to endear yourself too.
But, as the ball finds its own gormless way from goalkeeper to goalkeeper, with minimal interruption from the other twenty players, there’s no excuse for not trying. Ask him questions about himself-people love to talk about themselves- make him laugh; see if there’s a spark there. Would he be, erm, interested in doing this again maybe? It’s fine if he doesn’t want to, of course. But he has your details and you would love to hear from him again.
Use your imagination.
As a youngster during Kevin Keegan’s first time at Newcastle United and unable to get into the ground (and, kids, you’re just going to have to take my word on this one: in those day Newcastle United were only on television a paltry twelve or thirteen times a season, sometimes not even that, sometimes only ten or eleven), I used to go and watch South Shield home games with my granddad, which was all very authentic and homely of us and instructive in making games work for you, when they’re steadfastly refusing to meet you halfway, or do much with the ball when they do manage to make it there to meet you.
To heighten the importance of, and my involvement in, the game I would pretend that I was, in fact, watching Newcastle United, which made for a strange day the time Robert Lee sat in the stands watching the game with us, not playing because “his heed is still nipping from last night” or the time David Ginola told me to “stop pissing about with it” as I failed to get the ball back to him in time to take a quick corner. Or the time Shields lost a twelve point lead due to an astonishing amount of bad luck, an unkind fixture pile up, ludicrously biased refereeing throughout the run-in and Nottingham Forest folding like gutless wimps at Old Trafford before playing like a team of Marvel Superheroes against us a week or so later (If you’ll allow me a momentary confusion of the format to vent.)
The point is, had Keegan just brought on Clark and Gillespie on twenty minutes earlier against Man. Utd at home….no sorry, that isn’t the point, the point is: don’t feel restricted by the game in front of you: that’s not Hull City, that’s Brazil, the year isn’t 2009, it’s 1958 and you’ve heard lots of good things about their lad wearing 10, though it’s probably a load of old fuss about nothing, as usual (marvel as Geovanni rewrites history and proves the cynics retrospectively right.)
Pick an undistinguished player on the other side- him with the sideburns, the lad that’s just knocked the ball out so one of your players can get treatment, he’ll do- and, quietly at first but quickly escalating, begin abusing him; boo his every touch, scream unsubstantiated things about his celebrity girlfriend, if you support a London club, warn him what you’ll do if he ever shows up on your manor and tell him you knew his father.
You will be amazed at the amount of people that join in, perhaps for fear of having missed something earlier in the game and not wanting to expose their ignorance; perhaps for fear that Lee Bowyer has been playing all this time and they hadn’t realised.
See it out
We’re coming up to the end of October now: not long left, really, only another fourteen or fifteen home games to get through and then it’s summer and next year’s season ticket renewal forms. And on it goes, this thing of ours.