Our team, who art at Wembley, Holloway be thy name,
Thy prem we come, thy will be done, on earth as Matthews did in 53,
Give us this day our DJ Campbell
And forgive us our obstruction, for we forgive those who obstruct against us
And lead us not into the offside trap, but deliver us from penalties,
For thine is the candy floss, the tower and the donkey,
Forever and ever
There are legends in every family, stories that get told over and over again. My mum famously has lots of teenage boyfriend related tales about pole vaulters, and Shakespeare readers and guitar players, and Bolivians and… well. There were a lot of boyfriends. One of these – a guy by the name of Bogs Mannion – took my mum to her first and only ever football match, to see Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. It was a good day for Blackpool FC because they scored three times. And every time they scored, Bogs picked up my poor little mum and threw her in the air.
I’ve never really got football, and hours of endless mindless chat about various teams through my teens, plus the disruption that Match of the Day was to any evening fun and games, made me lose any affection I might have been able to cultivate. And why would you go and watch a match if you might get thrown up into the air repeatedly? Really why?
But on Saturday that all changed.
I broke the habit of a lifetime and some long-held principles to schlep down to Wembley and watch Blackpool in the Championship play-off final, maintaining all the time that this doesn’t mean I like football.
It was an education. Every five minutes as the trains came into Wembley Park station a surge of singing blue-shirted Welshmen and chanting tangerine-coloured Northerners piled down the stairs onto Wembley Way. The Cardiff fans were tuneful and the Blackpool fans were… well they were just loud. It felt like the whole town had come down on a giant jolly, complete with flags, wigs, face paints, hats and silly outfits. People were dressed as sheikhs, in full bright orange body stockings, or with orange feathered fake eyelashes.
I played it down and went subtle with four orange and white flowers on my face.
It was a bit of a flashback too – the guys I were with were all people I’d been at sixth form with. My cousins were there. My brother-in-law was there. The girl I used to babysit for was there. Everyone and his dog was there. It was slightly disconcerting. And my accent got gradually broader and broader and broader.
I might not enjoy football, per se, but I love competition. And Blackpool played up a storming good competition so I was shouting with the best of them, cheering when we scored, horrified every time Cardiff scored.
Three minutes before the end of the first half, the score at 2-2, I decided to beat the rush and run to the loo. And Blackpool scored again while I had my pants round my ankles. The roar from the stadium filtered through to the squealing screams in the ladies bathrooms, and people were hugging strangers and shouting with delight.
Football is funny. I like the way, when there’s a substitution, the player coming off the field jogs nonchalantly and the player replacing him absolutely sprints onto the pitch, as if to show his fresh energy and enthusiasm.
I liked the way we slated the Cardiff fans for not having flags. And every time we scored the way we all faced their end and sang ‘You’re not singing anymore!’ Which was a shame in some ways, because, as I said before, they were all beautiful singers. And the fact that Blackpool’s tangerine colour was literally blinding in the sunshine. I liked it when the goalkeeper climbed over the barrier to give some of the fans a taste of the winners’ champagne, much to the consternation of the security men. I liked that there were kids and really old men there, and that more than one man had a tear in his eye. It’s a funny thing, football.
There were no more goals in the second half, but the suspense was palpable – would we hold the lead? Of course we did, although the four minutes of extra time were the longest four minutes ever.
I felt absolutely euphoric. And my feet stayed flat on the floor the whole time. There’ll never be a match to top it.
But I maintain, this doesn’t mean I like football…