Tuesday, 9 May 2017

E I E I E I O... Up the Football Here We Go...

Football is weird.

I mean, I can't think of any other business that attracts the same emotional resonances.

Imagine, (To the tune of "Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go") Vodaphone, Vodaphone Vodaphone. Or "Oh Barclays bank, Is wonderful"

Yet football clubs are businesses. At the top level, they're pretty big companies. Lower down, not so much.

But, as Hillsborough shows, they're much more than that. They're also an expression of local pride and identity. Odd really, given that only the fan base is local. Generally the players, and owners are not.

And again at the top level, ordinary folks are having to fork out huge sums of money to get to see their team.

The product itself is an unscripted drama. Nothing is certain before the match kicks off, and watchers can be treated to rare displays of incredible skill. Or not.

When I was a kid, I occasionally used to go and stand on The Kop, struggling for a view, and getting shoved around all over the place by the surging sea of humanity watching the all conquering Liverpool team of the late 1970's strut their stuff. Rivers of piss down the back steps as most generally got oiled up at the local pubs before kick off.

In my late teens, or early twenties, I started going to watch my local team, Tranmere Rovers. My first match was against Crewe Alexandra. Both teams needed a draw to get promotion from the old 4th division, and incredibly, that's what happened. Almost 15,000 people went to see it. I thought it would be like that every week.

Of course, it wasn't. Generally gates of around 4-5,000 were the norm in those days, and I'd stand on the terraces, in hailstorms and frigid downpours to watch  Johnny King's Super White Army take on the likes of Rochdale, and  Mansfield Town. Or Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool. They were easy times to be a supporter. The club was on the up, and until the wave broke, just short of the Premier League, they held their own against far bigger clubs.

Since then though, they've been hard going, and despite the occasional bright spot, the trend was relentlessly downwards.

Still, having reached the bottom of the football league, and beyond, Tranmere have found themselves the biggest fish is a small pond. With a change of ownership, an injection of funds, and the appointment of a manager who seems to know what he's doing, they've had a change of fortune. You can feel it. This season, they accumulated 95 points, but this wasn't enough thanks to a Lincoln City side that just never stopped winning.

So it was the play-offs for us.

See the "Us" there? Listen to any football phone in, and you'll here the same pronouns. "We.", "Us.", "Them."

But to say "So it was the play-offs for Tranmere" seems somehow wrong. Emotionless.

Anyway, "We" duly trounced Aldershot Town, 3-0 in the first leg, away from home. I went to watch the second leg at Prenton Park and watched, along with over 10,000 other souls, as a tight and sometimes nervy match finished 2-2. The outcome was probably never really in doubt, but if Aldershot had managed to turn their 2-1 lead into 3-1, there might have been a lot of hard bitten fingernails. I went on my own. Well, my mum and sister went along, but the part of the ground they'd got tickets for had individual seats, so if I'd got a ticket for the same part of the ground, I wouldn't have been with them anyway, so I went behind the goal, where I've always gone. It's a social event, and without being with anyone I knew, I felt a little bit disconnected.

I watched Tranmere play at Wembley 4 times back in the early 90's. Twice in the Leyland Daf Cup, and Twice in the third division (as was) play-off finals. The first year, they won the cup but lost the play off, the second year, they lost the cup but got promoted.

And now they're back. And I'm going, along with Dave and Trev. Heading down in the car on Saturday to stay at Dave's mate, Rick's flat in Bracknell, where we will be dissolute, then off on public transport to London to meet Dave's brother, Andy, and on to the national stadium.

In some ways, I'm glad they never made it to the top. The further up you go, the more corporate it becomes. but it promises to be a good weekend.


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