Odd-numbered years may lack global sports competitions like the Olympics, the football World Cup or European Championships. Yet, for steadfast season-ticket holders like me, summer represents one thing: preseason.
Every year, from the day players return to training until the first whistle, the excitement of the new football season builds. We pencil in newly released fixtures and plan away days. We fuel our pipe dreams scrutinising the BBC’s gossip column with the faint hope that our squad will strengthen. (We are still unsure of who ‘Sky Sources’ actually are, and if the Daily Star says it, it must be true…) We are impatient for the release of the new home kit which, after initial disappointment, always grows on us. We wonder who will get the privilege of being printed on the back of said kit once acquired. We put ourselves in the gaffer’s shoes and tinker with tactics. We follow warmup matches more closely than we should. We pray for our players’ full health. But most of all, we recycle the stubborn belief that ‘this is the year’.
Coming from a Fulham fan, such fantasies often dissipate by Christmas, if that. So why do we renew our tickets and go through it again and again?
At a club with a
statue of Michael Jackson stature as humble as Fulham, the reason we look forward to each season is not so much the expectation of silverware as the anticipation of gameday pleasure; those ritualised walks to the ground, those habits and superstitions, those tastes of pies and pints on the banks of the River Thames, those smells of the hallowed green canvas, those sights of it being painted black and white, those back-of-the-net sounds, those volatile feelings of joy and despair.
To quote Fever Pitch:
What about this? Three minutes to go and you’re two-one up in a semi-final and you look around and you see all those thousands of faces contorted with fear and hope and worry, everyone lost, everything else gone out of their heads… The whistle blows and everyone goes spare, and just for those few minutes, you’re at the centre of the whole world.
And the fact that you care so much, that the noise you have made has been such a crucial part of it all, is what makes it special. Because you’ve been every bit as important as the players, and if you hadn’t been there, then who’d be bothered about football, really?
And the great thing is it comes round again and again. There’s always another season. You lose the Cup Final in May, well there’s the Third Round to look forward to in January. And what’s wrong with that? It’s actually pretty comforting if you think about it.
Perhaps we are not the glory-hunters of May, but we certainly are the comfort-seekers of a wintry Saturday afternoon.