“Football matters. It is part of the fabric of life in many ways. It affects the hopes, dreams and the personal identity of the millions who follow it and the hundreds of thousands who play it or watch it.”
So said Lincoln Allison in his Condition of England (1981). He went on to say, “scarcely a day has passed in my life when my mind does not entertain some thought, image, memory or hope about football.” For him, and for so many of us, football is not a diverting hobby; it is something more. As we approach season 2022 after losing nearly all the last 2 years sport, I know that football is part of me, and Reserve Road Beaumaris is a sort of spiritual home. In the year 2050, if there is a recognizable world, I want my great-grandchildren to experience the best of times that can be had playing, coaching, supporting the boys and girls in the blue and yellow.
Football does matter. Football matters in the same way any faith or enthusiasm matters, because of the meaning people find in it, the sense of community and history, tradition and belonging. You don’t even have to like it to recognise that it matters. To millions of fans whoever they support, football allegiance means more than politics and religion. It’s one of the precious threads that link us, not merely to friends, neighbours, and fellow supporters we will never know, but to generations gone by, to the boys and girls, men and women who walked the Reserve before us. Society is a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.
Like any other association — religious faith, or patriotism, or love — a sense of connection is all in the head, or the heart. If people think it matters, it matters. A few of the games I’ve played in – a 4-3 beating of Juventus in the o35s Cup Final when President Joe Mottola was busting to make an appearance off the bench. I held him back as things on the pitch had become ‘fractious’ much to Joe’s disappointment and later that week he had a heart attack! He would have been a fatality that day but in the end, it was only his pride that was hurt and he cooked up the best ever celebratory BBQ. Joyful memories that separate us from the real-world stuff of work and family and yet contain all their values within them.
There is the other side of football which is watching the games themselves and the joy in the form of watching people who are just incredibly good at their jobs. There is a skill to watching football — appreciating the skill involved. This isn’t football specific. You can get that with anything; the format is irrelevant. People being good at stuff is pleasing to see. And sport involves not just physical skill but mental. But I think there is a particular beauty in football, especially the sheer, feathery, delicate precision of a beautiful first touch. There is too much talk about goals in football. A goal blasted in from 30 metres is impressive, but if you want to show someone the aesthetic beauty of the game, the best thing to show them is the way a footballer uses their body to control the ball. Yes, you’ve met Terry Randall too!
There’s a pragmatic reason to be a fan, too. Football is a lingua franca. Its ubiquity makes it valuable. If you’re fluent in it, you have a ready-made topic of conversation with people all over the world.
Football has been off for lockdown but it is about to start again. And with it our sense of belonging for a missing time and place.
Have a great Christmas and here’s to a happy and healthy 2022!