Being a football fan can take you on a long, strange trip. Welcome to IBWM, Sarah Flotel.
At 6 years old I entered a football stadium to watch my first ever match, I kept asking what it was going to be like, no answer sufficed, only when I saw the stadium did I realise how this day would change my life forever; my first addiction. My Mum didn’t want to let me go, not because of the journey into town or the crowds, she had issues with my chaperone and at the time I didn’t care or understand why, I wanted it so badly I would have gone on my own, headstrong would be an adequate descriptive. There is no need to go into names or clubs, dates or specifics, this is a tale of how my first experiences as a football fan bear no relevance to the way I see football today.
The person who baptised me in the way of live football with kept cuttings about riots, carried a calling card and told stories of flares, violence and foulness that a young mind should not know about. This troubled individual also had a brilliant working knowledge and incredible passion of the game I fell in love with at first sight. I was set on a treadmill for a lifelong, if not rugged engagement with club, country, playing and coaching. Going to football introduced me to pubs and drunk people. As a child you just sit and absorb the atmosphere, rarely questioning it, just bobbing along with whatever soundbyte of belief strangles the airwaves. The discussion in the pub was more likely to be racist, homophobic and full of violent notions towards away fans than about football; each pub had its own faction who knew each other and the sub-culture of hooliganism only too well.
For me it was always about the football, going along with the hardcore element was the only vehicle I could take to the Premier League, few other women and children took seats on this bus. The weekend revolved around it; Sunday mornings were taken up watching my brother play, running the line if I was allowed to and taking the emergency substitute shirt when called upon, a rare but very proud moment on a freezing cold day. I very nearly scored an important injury time winner but it went all Fernando Torres, never clocked up enough minutes to sow my seeds as a player. Junior football had a maternal warmth, it was all about oranges and hot dogs with post-match piss-ups for the parents in the club house. The tuck shop served up Dib-Dabs, Panda Pops, and under-cooked chips; we always had a car full of people to drop home, glorious days.
There are those who stay in the social mould they were dropped into supporting their clubs, the sub-culture of prejudice lives like woodworm in families and therein lies the problem, not necessarily the match day environment. With mine the rot lay with one individual; an exception to our family unit rule. Some people I knew in my early years were unfortunate enough to be born into these pockets of ignorance for those who went to university their dark clouds of dislike dispersed to leave a pretty rainbow. They were irrigated with geyser jets of liberalism and flew up the social mobility scale landing in the laps of green party voters who were focus group leaders representing every possible focus group that existed, ever.
As I grew older I was invited less and less to matches, prices were going up and I started to question the anger and hatred, I didn’t have enough of it inside me to be swayed into a lifetime of being blinkered. Tensions rose on a personal level and it became untenable, I just couldn’t be around this vitriol anymore. A few years of wilderness passed by, Match of The Day and playing at secondary school was all I could manage; in hindsight I unconsciously took a break from the intensity of my early experiences in the stands.
Making the transition from fan and sometimes player and coach to writing about football brings about a welcome state of neutrality, an opportunity to explore the game and its multifarious facets on a deeper level. The emotional attachments created to the chick-to-Mama Goose imprinted club will never diminish, no matter how bittersweet the memories. Nothing raises the heartbeat like a goalmouth melee, 3 misses then a scrappy tap-in or miss-score penalties in a cup match; nothing floods the brain with endorphins quite like a spectacular long range shot or a comeback win, but it doesn’t feel quite the same when it isn’t your club or country, no matter how great the football is.
Sarah is a London-based, incredibly passionate football writer, musician and songwriter. Co-founder of Hot Scores, Sarah also presents a weekly video podcast devoted to fans of the beautiful game. She can be found on Twitter @sarahhotscores.