This year, I’ve become wary of attending football matches on a surprisingly sunny day. You’re caught off guard, carrying a heavy coat, sweltering in your polyester replica shirt straining to see past the blistering ball of light that’s blanketed the pitch in front of you.
With football operating as a weekly scapegoating session, we find ourselves making all kinds of excuses when our team lose. “I don’t like early kick-offs on a Saturday”; “It’s no luck for us when the ‘keeper wears that neon orange top” and so on.
Recently, I’ve had two sunny days that can definitely be tarred with the unsuccessful brush. I was so despondent after my visit to Nottingham Forest that it took me ages to write this post, and when I did, the draft didn’t save. Up in smoke. So football in the pouring rain and howling wind, that’s what I’m all about now.
My trip to The City Ground back in March had all the trappings of a great day out. I’d got really cheap tickets up to Nottingham, the train was on time and it felt all positive and shiny to be getting out of London on a sunny day. Even when I got temporarily lost in a mazy housing estate and had yet another Partridgesque moment wandering up the side of a busy road, things were still looking good.
NFFC looked glorious on the approach – the pubs by the ground were packed and spilled out onto the grassy verge by the River Trent. You know what it’s like on days like these – everyone’s in high spirits (the greatest time of my weekend is nearly always 2.45pm). I took my place for the standard away end view – somewhere halfway between the goal and the corner flag, about 15 rows back. Unfortunately for me I’d managed to get saddled with a woman who was an even bigger gobshite than I am. Her piercing screams of inane rubbish were causing loads of people who were rows in front of us to turn around and have a look. I’m sure they all thought she was with me…
Boro were toothless in attack and half-arsed in defence, mixed with a whole load of scrappy in the middle of the park. You could say they looked like a team who’d lost their mojo, still wincing in the memory and the shadow of the FA Cup defeat at Arsenal back in February. It had started to feel like the shine had worn off – we’d had loads of fun winning all those games and scoring all those goals, but the pressure of the top was starting to play on us now.
Mere minutes after a loopy, wayward cross had found its way into the back of the Forest net, the home side had equalised. The gobshite woman really came into her own at this point, coming out with total gems like “WELL IF WE WANT TO WIN NOW BORO WE’RE GONNA HAVE TO SCORE ANOTHER GOAL, AREN’T WE?” I wanted to sink into my seat, but we all know you can’t sit down in the away end. It’s illegal.
I got a bit lost coming out of the ground, so asked a police officer the best way to get to the train station. Without a hint of a smirk, the officer told me to head along the dual carriageway and take a left at Hooters. Turns out Boro weren’t the only tits in Nottingham that day then… Nottingham Forest 2-1 Middlesbrough
Ahh, Vicarage Road, my old friend. Or should that be foe? I’ve been to Watford three times now and seen my team lose two and draw one.
It was nice to see that Watford’s Sir Elton John Stand had finally been completed, as last year it was just a big pile of sand and rubble with a few diggers knocking about in there. Getting there was a bit of a trial even though I live in North London – bank holiday engineering works meant that a 15-minute train ride turned into a 50-minute one, stopping at the arse end of everywhere. This limited the time I had left to hang out in Watford and meant for a brisk stroll straight to Vicarage Road rather than hanging out for a bit on the high street. On Saturdays you’re quite likely to see two distinct groups of people hanging around in Watford – those going to the football and those off for a magical time at the Harry Potter World. It also means that idiots like me are given licence to wang on about “magic performances”, “midfield wizards” and “spellbinding runs” in my writing.
Both sides fielded the top-of-class line-ups that you’d expect, all powerhouse defences and menacing front lines. As you might expect, though, given the height of the stakes, the match wasn’t the greatest competition. I was a bit worried about a Darren Bent beach ball-style incident after numerous blow-up objects blustered around on the pitch. Boro’s strike-force were similarly flyaway when faced with Watford’s burly centre-backs – we didn’t really get a sniff. Troy Deeney put Boro on the back foot with his 80th Watford goal and Ighalo sealed the Hornets’ win by catching the Boro defence off-guard with a pearler from the edge of the box. It was the kind of meltdown that Boro fans have witnessed far too often this season – to the point that Watford didn’t really have to even play that well. They just had to tick boxes and get the simple stuff right to go top of the league.
Suffice to say the rest of my Saturday was spent thinking up Elton-based puns to find something to smile about (my particular favourite being Promotion Seems To Be The Hardest Word). Watford 2-0 Middlesbrough.
Despite actually spending the weekend in rainy Berlin, I had people looking at my salmon-pink arms and asking if I’d been somewhere tropical for the Bank Holiday. Just Watford, was my reply. My outlook was less than sunny for the rest of the week, though, it’s got to be said.
The travails of the football supporter…
Next up: Craven Cottage is on the cards for what could be a real “six-pointer”… Fingers crossed for rain.