The first match I went to was Preston v Norwich – a fairly mundane encounter until PNE scores in the last minute. The whole stadium (well, apart from the Norwich fans) erupted in celebration. I must admit I was quite astonished by the sudden sharp change. I mean, my mate and I were already walking out when they scored.
Never a regular visitor, I was always intrigued by the social and communal nature of the occasion. The walk across Moor Park towards the stadium, entering the turnstiles, the throng of people gathering beneath the stands, and then the stands itself. This collection of thousands, all cheering on 11 blokes knocking a ball around for ninety minutes. Football, like most sports, may be a shallow humanistic endeavour in itself, but that belies the wider connectivity it provides to a town or city.
I always felt more of an observer than a fan. Familiar enough with football I didn’t need to ask what was going on, but I was always curious about the changing patterns of the crowd. It was a curious mix of local townsfolk; young kids with their parents; large men on their own eating sizeable meat and potato pies; teenagers running up and down the steps of the stands, gathering together in their distinctive tribe-like groups; older people, mainly men, who I suspected used the opportunity to vent decades worth of anger. Seriously, never underestimate the ability of something like offside to bring out pure rage.
My favourite moments were the chants. Most were fairly standard fare – ‘Come on you lily whites!’ (PNE wears white or their home kit). Others we’re quite antagonistic, sometimes directed at the ref for a poor decision (real or imagined by the fans) – ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ – but some chants were utter nonsense, primarily designed to insult the visiting away fans. My favourite was the chant for regional rivals Burnley. The rural area of East Lancashire – “the Dingles” – always carried a quasi-serious accusation of inbreeding (like many rural areas suffer). This led to the chant ‘your mum’s your dad, your dad’s your mum, you’re interbred, you Burnley scum’. I found the whole thing quite hilarious, and the chant itself was sheer incoherence, even though to many unfamiliar observers it might seem quite astonishing. You had to be there I suppose.
It’s been about five years since I last went to see a match, during a holiday to the UK. I still keep an eye on the often frustrating ups and downs of the team. It’s be good to go again, watch the whole spectacle, and enjoy that strange communal unity that sports like football seem to bring. More than just a match, football is a whole event for individuals, friends and families that unifies a community. I enjoyed being part of it.