My output in the months of June and July down the years hasn’t been great. For a blogger who doesn’t enjoy the speculative nature of what would constitute news at this time of year I have decided the answer is the odd comment piece and a bit of history. Already one of ours, Snowy (good man!), has contributed two posts in the wake of another long season. Please find another fine piece from the same author who is digging me out of a deep hole as far as content is concerned this month. Thanks Snowy, it’s much appreciated.
Football, it has been noted, is a funny old game. So now that we have scores of TV cameras at every match, pre- and post-match interviews, the fan-generated clips on YouTube, plus all manner of footage from the team coach to the dressing room to the Tunnelcam, you may quite reasonably imagine that we can see absolutely every second of everything going on during every funny old game, should we choose to.
Certainly there’s a great deal of the rather dreadfully termed ‘content’ that global media companies use to persuade the audience they’re actually there. But it’s far from the whole story. Outside the formal coverage, the awkward ‘fan-terviews’ and the beery sing-songs captured on mobile phones, there’s a whole host of things to see every matchday that are completely ignored by the TV ‘eye’. Yet they are every bit a part of the matchday experience as their slick, HD-ready cousins.
It may not always be caught on camera, but the area around the pitch on matchday is generally teeming with professional snappers and their hefty bags of mysterious gadgetry, alongside Stewards, presenters, ballboys, ballgirls and flag wavers. Mainly trying to get out of each other’s way.
At the larger grounds this herd assumes the majestic Attenborough-documentary proportions of a perfectly-choreographed Serengeti. But at other places it’s more of a third rate wildlife park with a couple of bored antelope that’s quite rightly about to be closed down. I know the wildebeest all have ‘proper’ jobs in the matchday circus, but for the crowd their only real role is to stop the occasional rocket seemingly destined for Row Z with their face. Generally to a cheerful ‘wahay’ from the crowd on the very rare occasions when one does.
If there’s not an amusing montage somewhere on YouTube of the stuff keepers get up to when they’re bored and they think no-one’s watching, then there ought to be. The bouncing side to side along their line. The arm slapping. The star jumps. The running on the spot when it’s especially cold. In fact, most games will also yield a moment or two of more obvious comedic potential, be it bumping into a post, fumbling with a water bottle, or trapping their hand in the net while stowing their towel.
Over the years I’ve come to better appreciate the matchday contribution of the bored goalie, because in a particularly dull 90 minutes it’s sometimes the only real entertainment we get.
The half time warm up
While those of you who are plugged into the TV coverage are forced to suffer the half time platitudes of tedious, barely housetrained pundits, those of us at the game are either in the bar, in the bogs, or sat in the seat we paid for but have been defiantly ignoring by standing up for the previous 45 minutes.
I’ve long since given up trying to join a half time queue when hundreds of others are trying to do the same. So if I’m not chatting to whoever’s sat next to me I’ll watch whoever’s been on the bench warming up. Mostly it’s what you’d expect – moderately interesting drills and skills from the young and the recuperated. However at least once in every season you get a chance to see something exquisitely rare and beautiful.
For me last term it was Alexis at Villa, tucked away in his own quiet corner of the pitch performing such beguiling flicks and tricks it was impossible to look away. I have no idea how long I was watching in real time, as it was almost like space-time itself was being messed with. So at its best the half time warm up is an unforgettably mesmerising window into the world of a football genius at their craft. And even when it’s just a kick about between Shad and the recently lame, it still trumps any half time Zorb race or fan penalty shoot out. Every. Single. Time.
Of all the generally under-noticed sights this will always be my favourite. On every matchday someone, somewhere, is attending their very first game. Every match-going supporter has been there once, and we almost always look back on it with incredible fondness.
Those who have not yet been to their first game may well ask how you can tell, since it’s not like first timers are given L-plates at the turnstiles. But they do wear a sign of sorts, and if you look carefully you can’t really miss it. There’s always someone somewhere trying to hide the butterflies we mostly all feel before the match, but being given away by that unmistakable wideness of their eyes.
Here and there you spot them as the stands fill. Someone looking around at everyone and no-one, taking it all in. An earnest explanation being given to an attentive child. A wise old hand pointing patiently to some feature in the ground or something important in the programme. And sometimes, just sometimes, you’re lucky enough to catch someone’s eye as they sing for the first time as a fully-fledged member of the matchday choir, belting out their contribution to that glorious rumble you hear in your chest, and which at its best will leave a smile so wide it feels like it’s joining up again at the back of your head.
Beneath the perfectly groomed and sometimes characterless veneer of the modern game, there remains a colourful seam of real matchday life that’s still completely unretouched. It’s the last part of football that’s so far been left alone by those who’ve sanitised, homogenised and monetised every other aspect of the game, and every part of me is glad of that – for me it’s the very soul of the game.
So these are a few of my favourite matchday things (aside from Arsenal victories) what are yours?
Editors note – Feel free to share them with us. It will be a long summer! However, those who offer me sponsored content every day, there is a reason you don’t get a response. Cheers.