What is this fascination with soccer?


Soccer has been called the beautiful game. It has its ugly side too, but none of that manifested at White Hart Lane last Saturday.



Well, there was the little matter of a Chelsea player being sent off, and a bit of chanting, but apart from that...Having reached the age of 57 without actually ever attending a soccer match – school games aside – I could quite happily have lived the next 57 without doing the same. But, I have this Chelsea-mad friend who invited me to a London derby: his team away to Tottenham Hotspur. Below you will see a scan of my ticket. Actually, I sat in seat 178 for the first half and seat 179 for the second. He bought a block, being a member of that infamous top 1% he can afford to. Actually he needs to be, having put his son through university, and his daughter lining up for the same. Best not to mention his ex-wife. I should mention though that he deserves it; he works damn hard, and has staff to pay. I met him and the rest of his group at the local Irish Centre where he was happy to pay £12 to park. I begrudge paying £8 for a travel card, but such is life. Seriously though, who outside of the top 1% would shell out perhaps three hundred quid to sit on a terrace for 90 minutes plus injury time watching 22 blokes in shorts chasing a ball? The stadium was full, so there are either a lot of millionaire football fans in the capital, or somebody needs a reality check.

Who would pay £54.00 to watch a football match. Not me!

Both Chelsea and Tottenham fans have bad reputations, but this was clearly a family event. Yeah, there was a bit of chanting as I said, and a bit of swearing, but there were plenty of young boys and even a few young girls present. And a few not too young for me to give the eye, like the tasty blonde shown below. The camera doesn’t do her justice, but I can’t say I’m that bothered, because I’m wise enough to realise I’m at least 30 years too late.

The first half was dominated by the home team, but not massively so. When they scored, at our end, I feared that would be the end of it, but the away fans were undeterred, and I felt a vicarious thrill when Chelsea scored, but my friend didn’t cheer because he saw the flag had gone up for off-side. The home team were very astute with their off-side play, but Chelsea scored again, and this time it was allowed.

I’d like to have seen them score again for real, but the 1-1 draw was a fair result and a moral victory for the blues. I’d hate to have seen him shell out all that money only to see his team lose, especially as they’d had two bad losses recently, but of course, for every winner there is a loser.

On the train home I got talking to a Tottenham fan, and he found it astounding that I’d never been to a match before. He told me he lived in Carshalton, and that he’d been coming for the past twelve years. For him this wasn’t really a home derby; Tottenham’s great rival was another North London team, Arsenal.

Although the London derby left both teams half satisfied, up north, both Manchester United and Manchester City lost. And this is important because? Well, maybe someone’s head will roll. One thing that has always perplexed me is why it is always the manager who is sacked when a team loses 6 matches in a row or some such. Surely it would make more sense to sack the goalkeeper; if he did his job properly, his team would never lose. No one else in the Irish Centre seemed to see the logic of that.

Seriously though, granted there is a definite atmosphere at soccer matches, but for those of us willing to forgo the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd, surely TV or YouTube is a better idea? For one thing it is free or virtually so, no hassle with crowded trains or inclement weather, and you can watch the match at your leisure. And if you see only the highlights...do you really want to watch 90 minutes of to-ing and fro-ing when you can watch ten minutes of real action with a couple of goals thrown in? Or do you want to watch it at all?

Now one game that just might have been worth watching was Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Bristol Academy the following day; 22 women in shorts running up and down chasing a ball is an entirely different proposition!

This young Chelsea fan is actually stunningly attractive, but the moving camera does not do her justice. Thirty years ago I would have cared.

[The above op-ed was first published September 30, 2013.]

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