On Saturday Alan, 14 Year Old Son and I went to a football match here in Bognor Regis. Bognor was playing Sittingbourne and so who could resist? The stadium is but five minutes from my front door and we knew there would be a passionate time ahead if we went. So we went. It cost us £2.50 per ticket and for an extra pound each, we could sit on a more sophisticated type of plastic chair in a posher part of the stadium. Of course that is what we did, and were lucky that so many of the seats in front of us were broken as both Alan and 14 Year Old Son have legs that start just below their ears and go on for miles. The broken seats were no longer attached to the ground and gave more room to long legs which made all the difference, and so the extra money was well spent.
This, said Alan, is the soul of football. He was very moved and perhaps a little tearful. " I played at this level once", he said, looking wistful. " I remember the excitement and nerves before playing an FA qualifying game, such as this is." 14 Year Old Son didn't hear Alan though, he hadn't brought his hearing aid because it has once or twice picked up someones mobile phone conversation in a crowd, and made him think he was hearing voices from God. 14 Year Old Son has been known to carry on surreal conversations with people who don't know that he has not got his hearing aid in. Not quite connecting to what is being said, he carries on chatting about what he thinks the other person is talking about, and is so batty and conversational that it is only the intervention of a very confused third party asking what the hell they are talking about, that the penny drops. Recently, Son spent time chatting happily to an elderly man about football while the elderly man talked about world war two spitfires. It was only when the whole table (it was at a Sunday lunch) fell into a mesmerised and pained silence that someone noticed that neither party had their hearing aids in. Both Son and elderly man had been thrilled to have met someone who could talk with such depth about football/spitfires, and neither could actually hear what the other was saying. It seemed cruel to disillusion them but the conversation had become so loud and so bizarre that something had to be done.
The football match began. All around the pitch, men and boys gripped the seat in front of them and settled in for 90 minutes of sheer bloodcurdling emotion. Onto the pitch ran the players, one lot wearing green and the other lot wearing blue. Now wasn't the time to ask the old warrior next to me, "And which, pray, are the Bognor lot?" I would work it out. And I would also work out which end Bognor had to score. Then, I would be one of them, an old football hack, able to roar appropriately along with the best of them. And not shout "Oh jolly good!" from the Bognor side when Sittingbourne scored a goal.
I am not a sporty person. I do however, possess a very sporty son and a very sporty other half. What I love when I go to matches and sporting events with them, is the passion everyone feels for the game. I love the furious excitement, I am full of admiration that they know the rules and can follow what is going on, and I am impressed at how personal the playing becomes to each and everyone spectating. It is as if each player is only playing like that to annoy that one man who is beside himself with passion. "You're only doing that to annoy me!" he shouts, but not in those words. That is only the gist of what he is saying. Much of what he says is cunningly wrapped up in personal comments about the player, the team, the ref and his mother. You have to listen between the lines, so to speak. Oh how football matches clutch at the heart of those dedicated to watching them. There is a universal need, it seems, for every man there to shout instructions to every player on the field at the top of his voice, from wherever he is in the stands, and expect the players to hear him and for it to make a difference. Oh thanks! he expects the exhausted fellow sweating in the middle of the pitch, to say. I didn't think of that! I'll just do that now. Or, Excuse me! You there, in the left hand row at the back of the stands! What shall I do now? Give me your advice!
Each man in the stands, watching the game, if they were not singing, was yelling till he was red in the face. Instructions, furious arm movements, match advice, and a running commentary on his personal feelings for game itself and possibly the ref And his mother. A heartbreaking camaradarie broke out within the stands, and fans would turn to each other and say in so many words, "Back me up, pal. I am sinking fast into the Slough of Despond, tell me I am right and that these fellows playing need to be sectioned" or, "so and so is playing like a hero today bless his cotton socks, and long may he continue to do so" and so on. And these men were loud. Caught up in the intensity of the moment, nothing would do except an all out bellow to join all the other all out bellows from the very core of the souls of the other spectators. All of whom were giving life saving advice from their own point of view. (The right one.)
Gosh, I thought. What would women do if we had something that moved us to shed all our good manners and yell advice at the top of our voices to whoever was entertaining us? What, I thought, am I passionate about? Colour was my first thought. A whole sea of women becoming unhinged at a spectacle where teams had to choose colours and paint something in those colours? I don't think it would work. (Red! Orange! No, no no, not blue, tell me you won't do blue AAaaaaaagh! Yaaaaahhhhh! Pink! etc) I wondered what would move me, as a woman, to identify with a game so much that I would merge my soul with it and at the same time give myself a hernia telling it what to do. I couldn't think of anything. I do love painting, but that is a solitary act. I love eating - not quite. I love reading. Nope. I love dancing to reggae. Nope. I love funny people. Nope. Nothing it seems, in my own life, could match football in a man's life.
I did have a small insight though. While at school I would try and try to get onto the Lacrosse team. I never made it, and couldn't understand why not. I ran around didn't I? And sometimes I caught the ball, didn't I? What I lacked, and still lack, is ability to see the bigger picture. Once I got the ball, it was meant to be passed on strategically to someone else (on my team) so that someone could hypothetically go on to score a goal. Well. I was so delighted to have caught the ball that I would not be too worried who I gave it to. Look at that! I wanted to say. I got the ball, I am definately team material. But I see now that it didn't stop there. As part of a team I was duty bound to act not as an individual, but as a cog in a wheel that was destined for victory. I saw all that in a flash on Saturday, at the Bognor Regis v Sittingbourne match. And while I was watching the match, I realised that I had no idea how anyone knew where the ball would be in this very game, or how the game would unfold. It was blindingly clear to those men having metaphorical heart attacks around me. But all I could see was a collection of men working together with some kind of divine knowledge not available to me, a game making sense with a plan, doing something together that they all understood and working together as one in a team in a way that was utterly beyond me. There, That is the nub. I am not a team player. I am a lone worker, an individual, and as such, no darn good in a Lacrosse match.
Well, Bognor Regis won. They wore the green outfits and no one died watching the match. I understand more about Lacrosse now than I did this time last week. And in the relief of the discovery that I am not a team player, I will make a badge that says "Don't ask me the rules. I'm a loner."