Football fans - How I moved from a diehard fan to a fairweather fan
Football. It’s a religion to many, which may explain the popularity of Sunday games. For me, my deity of choice is West Ham, which to continue the religion analogy is proof above all else that I am paying for my sins.
West Ham have never been high achievers. The term “glory hunter” has never applied to the Upton Park faithful, not even towards the end of the last century with the InterToto Cup win. Yet for some reason the church of the Boleyn weighs heavily in the hearts and minds of thousands.
It’s the same up and down the country, of course, and every fan has their own perception of the importance of their team, their results and their transfer activity in their own lives.
As a teenager, I fell in love with the club. Battling to gain promotion or beat relegation, I never expected them to overachieve. Attending games and seeing my heroes just a few feet in front of me is a memory indelibly etched in my mind. In my late teens, I was finally in a position where I could make a commitment to the club, and I bought a season ticket. West Stand Lower, near the now-named Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, overlooking the edge of the box. It was glorious. My seat. MY SEAT. At MY club. For 19 league games that season, I didn’t think I’d ever give it up in years to come. Surely nothing could break this bond?
Just over half way through the season my then-girlfriend fell pregnant. It was unexpected, yet bizarrely welcomed. With a family to support, I knew that something had to give. With a heavy heart, I decided not to renew my season ticket and instead followed the team from afar.
The majority of my footballing memories since then have been media based. Hearing about a winning goal at old Trafford on the radio. Getting a text alert about a goal against Millwall. Switching the TV off solemnly and bathing the kids as Liverpool beat us in the FA Cup final. The memories, the ecstasy and the heartbreak are all as real when experienced remotely as they are when events are unfolding in front of you. Of course, you don’t get the immersed experience. The swell of the crowd when a goal is scored. The clear as a bell chants from opposing supporters. The sheer number of swearing words that players shout at a referee. But the feelings are still there.
It feels like a lifetime since I last attended a game. In fact, it was probably a couple of years ago when my middle daughter asked me to take her. The journey in was horrendous, the cost of entry extortionate and the day, despite a win, was unremarkable. Yet I sit here now reflecting on something completely out of my control. Will my team win their next match? Will they survive the season without being relegated? Each passing loss seems to bring a heavy heart, and though I certainly don’t have the same connection to the club that I had 14 years ago, the emotional bond is still there. I still get in a bad mood after a loss, or a bouncy mood after a win, though without the hours of travelling that it used to bring with it.
I used to think that supporting your club meant attending as many games as possible. Making your voice heard - literally - in the crowd. That if you didn’t go to games, you were somehow less of a fan.
Nowadays I see it differently. You don’t have to go to church to believe in God, right?
Now if you’ll excuse me, fellow football fans, I need a couple of moments to say a quick prayer.