One of the amazing things about the Premier League today is thanks to advancements in technology and its rapid growth in worldwide popularity a match can be enjoyed not just by the 40,000+ people in the stadium, but millions across the world in pubs, clubs and front rooms.
Whether it is in the middle of the night, early in the morning, tea-time or lunchtime, It doesn’t seem to matter, devoted fans of EPL clubs will make sure they catch all the action, be it via dodgy internet feed, cable TV, their local pub, or the ground itself.
Because of that each fans’ match day experience varies greatly yet contains the same elements of anticipation, excitement and superstition. I am lucky enough to have been on both sides of the match day fence. I currently live close enough to my favourite side to have a season ticket, giving me ample practice to perfect my pre-match routines. Yet I have also lived on the other side of the world, meaning the internet and TV has had to fulfil my Premier League void.
In the first of a three part series I thought I would describe my thoughts and feelings during the course of a home match day and the bizarre idiosyncrasies that may seem strange to outsiders, but to a football fan seem perfectly normal. Feel free to share your thoughts below.
1) The morning
A quick scour of the internet to read any story related to my team. Match previews, injury news, transfer rumours - all to help you get ‘up’ for the game. I will put Sky Sports News on, waiting for the preview of my match. It usually only lasts about 35 seconds but it is all part of the vital preparation.
2) The journey
If it is a three o’clock kick-off, increasingly rare nowadays, I will always strive to get the same time train to the ground. It allows me to watch the first throws of Soccer Saturday before I leave the house, yet get to the pub in time to check out the early kick off. I meet up with my mates, discuss what was floating around the internet that morning, predictions, thoughts and guessing of the line-up.
3) Around the ground
Ah the magic of the stadium. A quick walk from the pub and you are quickly confronted by the sights and sounds that can only be a football ground. Granted you get a whiff of horse crap and cigarettes ( I’m a non-smoker sorry), but combined with the sounds and smell of onions sizzling on the burger stall, the bawls of the badge sellers, the excited chitter-chatter enveloping the gathering masses, or the clicker-clacker of the turn stiles, it forms an intoxicating cocktail of expectation and excitement. My mate will buy a programme from the same stallholder, I always used to oblige but I usually opt for a cheaper fanzine now – if I have any change from my beer money (it is a recession after all!)
4) We’re in
Most fans have their preferred area of the ground. Mine has always been the ‘home’ end behind the goal. It was where I was taken as a kid and although it may not have the best view of the pitch, it is generally the best for atmosphere, which I feel is just as important.
Whether you have been to 100 games or one there is something special and spine tingling about the walk up the steps from the concourse towards your seat. You make the walk, hearing the chants from the fans already ensconced in their usual positions, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, you reach the top step and take a second just to survey all that is before you – your home for the next 90 minutes.
As I usually get into the ground just before kick-off (I’m not a fan of the over-priced watery beer found inside the grounds!) I don’t have much time to get to my seat before the team comes out.
5) The match
The referee and linesman are the first you see emerge from the tunnel and you know that just behind are the teams. The ground rises as one, the cheers go up and your side take its first steps onto the field. Nowadays, of course, the team has to line up for the fair play handshake (In my opinion typical FIFA nonsense). I always preferred it when the players ran out onto the pitch. To walk on and line up nice and politely is like tethering a wild beast. The players are ready to go but they can’t be unleashed, yet.
The usual chants go up, cycling through your best players, they respond with a clap towards the fans, which is warmly reciprocated. The captain goes for the coin toss, fingers crossed we are kicking to our end second half, yes, they are not swapping, always a good sign, come on boys we can win this one!
I don’t know about you but whenever my team concedes a goal I have to look over to the opposing fans. There is something fascinating watching thousands of bodies gyrating in unison, arms waving in a million directions, some forming rather rude hand gestures towards where I’m sat. It is an example of the power of football, that one incident can make so may people go so crazy.
What if my side scores? Well, I’m sorry, I am not responsible for my actions. That old guy in front of me? hugged him. The two lads to my left? Hugged them. My mates to my right? Hugged them and shouted ‘yeeessss get in’ several times.
You feel so invigorated; it should also be billed as the ultimate hangover cure. I have attended many matches after a heavy night and felt like falling asleep in my seat. But when my team scores, the fog lifts, my head eases and the nausea evaporates from my stomach.
7) Last minute
You gotta love last minute winners. That unexpected point, that win snatched at the death with no time for a comeback. The supporter’s flailing arms pulsate a little bit quicker when it’s in the 90th minute. Conversely conceding a goal in the last seconds makes you sick. Seconds before you are mentally visualising the win, the match reports after the game and your celebrations for the evening.
Then, all of a sudden, their man breaks free in the box, the fans take a collective breath, the shot is goal bound, you hear the screams, and then the stunned silence, just for a second, as both sets of fans contemplate what has just happened.
After that ‘decompression zone’ is over all you can hear are the opposition fans going crazy while seats are slammed in frustration around you.
8 ) Post-match
I doubt it would come as a surprise to you that my post match ritual is totally dependent on the result. A win, we celebrate. A few beers at the pub by the ground, discussing the game, checking the other results on Soccer Saturday and causally watching the late game on Sky. Then home and a night built around Match Of The day. I read the match reports on Teletext (both ITV and BBC, just to get the full picture you know?) check out Sky Sports News, and scour the internet yet again. Then, confirm what time MOTD is on, ensure you can watch it, and get ready to curse Gary Lineker when it turns out your team are on last…again.
Lose and it is like the match never happened. A quick pint perhaps to digest the score, have a whinge, blame the ref etc… I will check the other results just to assess the damage. But other than that football is off for the rest of the day. Does the girlfriend fancy a meal out? Of course! Anything to avoid being near a television come 10.30 when Alan Hansen appears and slags off our defence.
The pain eases slightly come the Sunday, Icould perhaps dare to watchTV again, or read a paper, still cursing the goal that was blatantly offside.
Come the Monday I am ready to move on. I check the fixture list. Whose next? Easy, we will have them. Can’t wait.
And I prepare to do it all over again.
Do you have your own match day experiences? Those lucky pants? That sight, sound or smell that’s sums up your day at the match? Feel free to let me know you thoughts and comments below.