Supporting a lower division football team is a little bit like being one of those self flagellating monks. Somehow you truly believe that your sheer presence alone can spur your team onto a magnificent victory, thus pushing them up the table and the glory of promotion. After which they most likely spend a season trying not to get relegated. And if they don’t win, you beat yourself even harder by sitting there again the following week, with a cup of Bovril and a pie, freezing your feet off and praying to whichever deity is on duty that if you win only this game you’ll happily sell your soul to whoever wants it.
Most Saturday afternoons I sit in the Lower Tier of the main stand at Boundary Park watching my team play, what is in the most, crap football. We don’t often win; the referee is usually wearing the kit of the away team underneath his black shirt and recently we’ve run out of pies by half time.
And it’s cold enough for three of Sarah Lund’s jumpers to be worn.
So why do I do it? I’m clearly not a glory hunter. If I was, I’d be down at the Ethihad (I’m Northern, so Old Trafford is off limits, I don’t have the passport) or even taking the train over to Huddersfield and spending the early part of Saturday afternoon in an excellent pub that serves Yorkshire Tapas and gives you free samples of all its home brewed beers. There’s more chance of me running an Ultra marathon than Latics being promoted, this season anyway and even a win is as rare as house sparrows these days.
But it’s real football. None of your glitzy glamour although some of the footballers’ fluorescent boots suggest otherwise. I can hear the manager shout and when we score it feels like there’s hope again. I see the same faces every week, catch up in a few sentences and we always have something to talk about next that doesn’t involve uncomfortable silences or putting your foot right there in it. It’s straightforward. It’s honest.
That wind that comes wailing in from where our fourth stand used to be makes me feel like a survivor, a true football fan, a true supporter and even when we lose, there’s always next week, or next season and an excuse for a good moan and a speculation that’s not about politics or the NHS or, God forbid, what Michael Gove is doing to education.
So today, come three o’clock, I’ll be sat in between Alan and Bez. Alan’ll be praising the skills of his ‘love-child’ Matt Smith and Bez’ll be shouting out instructions to the players – usually making more sense than the manager. It’ll be ten degrees colder than anywhere else and I’ve no doubt that the football will be – to put it bluntly – shite.
But, at the end of it all, when we leave and walk over the soggy grasses of the playing fields, back to the pub, we’ll have hope. Even if we’ve lost, even if our best player’s out for the season and we’re talking about relegation and the club going under, they’ll still be hope. Because secretly, supporting a lower league club with no Sheikh about to give us a miracle, and sitting there with an icicle hanging from my nose, it gives us something to be hopeful for.
And we all need that, don’t we.