Luke Harvey, another of our regular writers, offers a hardcore enthusiast’s welcome to the return – gormless rioters permitting – of the football season …
You’ll have heard the rumours: football is back.
It doesn’t feel like very long since the season ended. For Manchester United fans I’m sure the defeat at the hands of Barcelona is still providing a dull ache somewhere within, despite the FA Community Shield victory over Man City.
But the football league is definitely back, and it will surely provide the thrills and spills as well as plenty of other assorted clichés along the way.
To a man, football can be one of the most important aspects of life. I imagine my heart would be far less strained and my wallet considerably heavier if it didn’t exist, but I also suspect my life would be a great deal emptier.
My passion for football in general is exceeded only by my passion for Sunderland AFC. If you go through every day in life with at least some thought of the team running through your mind, it’s fair to say that that team must hold a dear place in your heart.
If you met me on a weekend in the pub, spoke to me for 30 minutes, you’d form an impression of how I am, for the most part quiet, reserved, mild-mannered and socially, perhaps, a little haphazard but ultimately a pleasant enough sort.
If you met me within the confines of a football stadium, I’d forgive you if your opinion was that I’m a loud and confrontational lout whose grasp of the English language is both limited and rather vulgar.
Football is the full moon to the inner werewolf, the red cloth to the inner bull. An addictive drug-like substance that brings out the more passionate side of me.
A wet, miserable Saturday at the start of the August is always going to be a special occasion – the return of the football league, meaning the start of the Premier League is inching ever closer.
If there is no Sunderland match to follow, and a 0-0 draw with Hibs didn’t tempt me particularly, I’ll venture down to my local stadium – Brunton Park – to see Carlisle United play. After being relieved of £18 by what I can only assume were conmen masquerading as ticket officers, I was treated to a rather clunking and error-strewn display of football by Carlisle while Lee Hughes managed to gain the ire of every single home fan in the stadium.
I refer to Carlisle as “they”. Even if I’m watching the team from the home end, I can’t bring myself to say “we”; that’s reserved exclusively for Sunderland. I would feel a fraud to the loyal Carlisle fans if I tried to pass myself off as one of them. I’m simply a football fan who wants his home town team to succeed – there’s no shame in that.
What was shameful was the behaviour of Notts County’s forward, Hughes. A talented player no doubt, but a horrible person to all intents and purposes – and lucky to have left the pitch through substitution and not a red card.
When he blocked off Peter Murphy in the run up to the first goal, the referee waved play on and, with Carlisle’s centre back in a heap on the half way line, it was all too easy for County to score the first. Then, having been outpaced, Hughes cynically charged down the same player again out of what seemed nothing other than spite, once again leaving him on the floor.
When the referee showed only a yellow card, Martin Allen could barely wait to try and haul off Hughes, relieved he could still use 11 men. But Hughes wasn’t coming quietly. After what felt like a five-minute round of applause for the travelling fans, he goaded the East Stand fans by indicating the score with his fingers (3-0). The East Stand of Brunton Park not too dissimilar to that at the Stadium of Light, housing mostly ageing adults who seem to turn up more out of habit than excitement.
Hughes was finally pushed down the tunnel, with what I believe to be the spittle of one particularly irate fan on his forehead, and Carlisle looked much better with him off the pitch.
What worries me is my reaction to the events. As I pointed out, I’m not a Carlisle fan, I follow them with interest but not out of passion or love. However even I found myself inching closer to the tunnel to tell Lee Hughes exactly what I thought of him, I was incensed – and even with 45 more fixtures you’d have thought this match was of the utmost importance, not only to Carlisle, but also to myself.
With the Premier League season about to kick off I can only approach it with hope, trepidation and an awful lot of enthusiasm. Perhaps it is youthful exuberance, and maybe in 30 years it will have been sucked out of me, but I know full well that my actions at Brunton Park will be magnified by 10 times when I travel to the Stadium of Light.
Perhaps my excitement is too much, others can’t understand it, we’re essentially playing for seventh place in a money-hungry league – but I won’t try to explain it, and will simply enjoy the match to its fullest.
The fact that the first home game of the season is against our nearest and dearest simply makes things even more interesting.
So I extend the offer to fellow contributor Mr Taylor: if you need an injection of new enthusiasm I have more than enough to spare some, but you may be overawed by the dose of unbridled and unfounded optimism that comes with it.
So bring on the football season; I could never imagine a life without it.