I’m pissing on my shoes, writes Andy Helson.
It’s quite possible I’m doing the same on at least three of my fingers too but I’m so cold I’m not completely sure although I am welcoming the warmth. What I do know is this is the coldest I’ve ever been at a football match, or anywhere else for that matter. I, like my fellow travellers, felt the sharp chill as soon as we disembarked the coach at Huddersfield’s newish ground for a midweek FA Cup 2nd round replay against Emley which we are destined to lose on penalties. I washed my hands and my shoes eventually dried out and while the significance of the result has long since become unimportant, the memory of that evening in those snowy Yorkshire peaks remains with me. It is talked about and laughed about with my match day mates to this day and although we would have to wait a further 20 years to make our name in the FA Cup, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Football is about memories.
We do have the following Saturday’s home match to look forward to, a day spent travelling with fellow Imps, meeting with Mark, Andy, Dave, and Al in the Treaty and/or Ash, Dave (different one) Kev and Jane in the Eagle. Mark and I would have the sudden realisation that it’s five to three and embark on a brisk five-minute walk to the ground taking our seats to the usual chorus of what time do you call this, or words to that effect. We will have almost subliminally taken in the noise from the stadium as we approach, the smells of the bar and the burgers as we squeeze through the turnstiles and the shrill whistle as the Ref gets the game underway. I can only assume he was waiting for us. The sights, the sounds and the smells of a home matchday that we took for granted. It would always be this way. Wouldn’t it? It would seem not.
During this last summer, I spent 4 months working from home staring into laptop screen on yet another Microsoft Teams meeting, trying to answer questions on that week’s team quiz or trying to turn an Excel spreadsheet into a database. I went for walks and queued outside my chosen supermarket for a loaf of bread. I became used to giving my Hermes driver a cheery wave as he chucked a parcel onto the roof of my shed. I kept up with my football club and my friends through the medium of social media. We made each other laugh and we made each other cry. We hung onto every word from our club regarding possible transfers and we grasped at every sliver of hope about a possible return to grounds. Eventually, we got the message from the Government, supposedly our Government, a Government that is supposed to represent our best interests. The message? As mere football fans, we are not important enough! We had had our hopes raised with trials at some clubs but these were just breadcrumbs that were then cruelly snatched back. We lobbied our Government for help to keep clubs afloat and we have been met with denials and platitudes. A pat on the head and told help is coming. It isn’t.
Instead, we read headlines such as UK government finally announces details of its £1.5bn funding support package for the arts. The Art Newspaper 30th July 2020 and Virgin Atlantic secures £1.2bn rescue package to keep flying. Financial Times 14th July 2020.
The Arts received funding in excess of £900 million in 2019, the airline industry is awash with billions in profits on an annual basis yet both are handed bailouts when they’ve gone cap in hand to their chums in the corridors of power. In the meantime, Football has been told to sort itself out and was promptly offered Project Big Picture from the Premiership. A Premiership already bloated to Trumpian level was asking for more. Shockingly, this deal was lauded from the heights of the EFL and various short-sighted chairmen within Lge1 & 2 clubs. Thankfully, those prem clubs who would have also lost outvoted the deal down but isn’t going away.
Only a few days ago our own Chairman tweeted that the deal was being repackaged. They can put lipstick on a pig but it will still be a pig. What our MP’s don’t seem to understand is that clubs in leagues 1 & 2 rely on the matchday income for their very existence. Gate receipts, merchandise, food and drink. Todays 50/50 ticket was a Golden Goal ticket when I first started going. Every penny in those days mattered and it matters now. The Government now face a stark choice. Help with funding to lower league clubs, allow clubs to generate their own income by allowing fans back in or let clubs and communities die because of their indifference to any football that isn’t screened live into their parliamentary offices. It would appear that this is their preferred option as there has been no movement on the first two. I’m sure that if challenged the MP’s would say that my perception is wrong, well I’m sorry but that is my perception and therefore my reality. How many Burys and Macclesfields are enough? How many more clubs and communities have to die while Oliver Dowden and his merry band continue to deny the Titanic is sinking and sit on the deck while playing Nearer, My God, to Thee.
This morning while in the car I listened briefly to a sports panel show that asked the question “how much is football worth?” in relation to the pay per view package put together by Sky & BT. Sadly, as seems to be the norm, the question assumed that football outside of the topflight doesn’t exist. The answers ranged from £5 to £20 per game with reasons given such as these are extra games that wouldn’t normally be televised, to inexplicably, that this is rightly a precursor to all 3.00 o’clock kick-offs being televised. Astonishingly this answer came from a TV celeb who portrays himself as a Fulham fan. A Fulham fan who has quickly forgotten where his team were just a few years ago. Every one of them entirely missed the point of the question.
How much is football worth?
In the middle of June this year my Dad who is now in his late 80’s (but probably fitter than I am) took a tumble putting the bins out. After a night in Lincoln County hospital, he was allowed home a bit battered and a bit bruised and it knocked the wind out his sales. What made it worse for all of us was the fact that we were not allowed to visit due to the first lockdown. Dad doesn’t do social media but I thought a little Twitter love may help his recovery if he knew that people around the club were thinking of him. I had in mind that if I could get 20 or 30 interactions and report them back then it might perk him up a little. Then something incredible happened. In only a few minutes people from the club’s fan base started to send messages of goodwill and help, then the club itself, then off-field management, then on-field management, then players and former players and former management. Messages started coming in from supporters of other clubs both large and small, then from abroad, even a Hollywood A-lister. I was blown away, I relayed these messages and Dad appeared to take it in his stride and had an early night. Speaking to Mum she told me how delighted he was and I have no doubt that all of these messages helped speed his recovery. For the record, he is now very much better and back on the golf course. That response was enough to bring a tear to my eye and I cannot thank everybody enough for taking the time out of their busy lives to spare a couple of moments to respond to Dad. Those moments made a difference to Dad and the whole family. That is what football is worth.
Football is the chance for Dad and Mum to grab their little ones, wrapping them up in the local team’s colours and spend time with them. Spend those precious moments making memories that during the week they don’t seem to get the time to. What with work and school and cooking tea and homework and everything else that families have to do. Saturday is time to talk to them about stuff outside of the weekday humdrum. To listen to them as they chat excitedly about their favourite players while inhaling a hotdog. Football is the smiles on the faces of these kids as they walk into the ground full of hope and expectation. That’s what football is worth.
Football is grown blokes like me who meet their old friends and match day mates in the Treaty for a couple of pints while checking the teams and chatting tactics all the while getting that same sense of excitement that the kids are getting. That never goes away. That is what football is worth. Football is sitting around like-minded people whose names you’re not sure of but who greet you with a familiar smile, a hello and that unanswerable question, “how do you think it’ll go today?” That is what football is worth.
This is what those B list celebs on the radio and the MP’s with their snouts in the ever-deepening trough don’t understand. Football brings millions into local communities, millions that is vital to the very existence of the clubs and communities. That is what football is worth. However, for me, football is much more than that. Football is the sights, sounds and smells of a match day. Football is the friends you meet, the successes and yes the failures of your team, it is the goals, the near misses, the triumphs and disasters. Football is the hope. Football is the family. Football is the difference you make to your club and the difference your club makes to you.
That is what football is worth.
To help save your local football club, check out the Save Our Clubs campaign, and the 617 Campaign highlighting football’s plight. Both have Twitter pages you can follow, but the important thing is to make your voice heard. Write to your MP, make a noise. You have a voice, use it to highlight our club’s plight, not moan about VAR or discuss some Premier League defender being branded an idiot by a failed manager.