I really really really miss football at the moment. It's almost September and I'm still to hear the reassuring click of a turnstile or catch the Bovril on the wind.
The 'writing-up period', also known as 'the period of borderline insanity when you write for hours and hours every day and spend the rest of your time chewing your nails and not being able to get to sleep.' Every day I think about the things I used to do before this state of affairs descended:
1 - Wear clothes that made me look neat.
2 - Play in a band; a band that were actually not that bad.
3 - Go to nightclubs, occasionally, and have a dance.
4 - Go to football. Not just play it (though I'm glad I have that to fall back on.)
I came back to football hard at the beginning of my PhD. It wasn't that I hadn't watched it or played a bit in the years following my leaving home. I think I just felt at the time that it was a bit hokey to be spending half your life indulging your love for a middling-to-awful side from the north-east. The jump-start back into obsession began when I went to visit my brother, Thom, in Manchester just before I went back to university: I was working for a stationery suppliers, was on the verge of being (temporarily) 'removed' from the band for personal reasons, was in a state that can best be described as 'relationship chaos', was not really writing or even reading very much. I had just been awarded a prize for my Masters dissertation, which somehow managed to contribute to a sense of identity crisis.
Anyway, Thom was living in Manchester at the time, as I say, and Darlington - in their woeful, post-George Reynolds downturn - were away at Bury that weekend. So after a lovely, if famished, journey over, and a preposterously Britpop-heavy night in (we did this again in January after going to see Spurs: after a few cans T. 'djs' and thinks that listening to Ultrasound
would be a good idea), we got the Metrolink up to Bury to go to Gigg Lane. I had actually been to a home game a couple of weeks before, but this was something else: bloody freezing, booze-veined and participating in the cameraderie of the awayday charabanc. In a non-Danny Dyer way, I was buzzing. I think I decided then and there to embrace my provinciality once and for all.
Anyway, since then, it's been pretty good, in a 'isn't my harmless obsession amusing' kind of way. There was the spontaneous, three in the morning decision to go all the way to Macclesfield the next morning (Thom tried to make me go and see The Wedding Present in Sheffield that night. I was not having it. I believe that was also the week I taught a lesson on Bertolt Brecht, despite the fact that the most complicated thing I've ever seen in a theatre is The Hound of the Baskervilles starring the affable, anxious tax collector from The Darling Buds of May.) There was the visit to the Millerntor Stadion to see St. Pauli take on Wattenscheid, the fulcrum of a marvellous boozy weekend in Hamburg. There was, most notoriously, the day that I dragged Jenny to deepest Cambridgeshire to see Histon lose 1-0 to Carshalton Athletic in subzero temperatures on the grounds that it was the kind of thing Bill Brandt would have done.
The thing is that, although there are many serious academics who like nothing better than listening to the Fall on the train en route to see AFC Fylde or Whitby Town or Saltash United, they are still in the minority. Footie is a kind of conversational no-go most of the time. It is often automatically assumed that 'liking football' means going to a bar and talking ill-informed nonsense while watching the team you 'support' on Sky Sports. I often want to round on these people and say that no-one seriously 'likes football' unless they have done the following things:
1 - Been to watch an FA Cup game in one of the rounds prior to the Conference National teams entering.
2 - Have seen a Blyth Spartans fans threaten to murder the referee if he abandoned the game, despite the fact that half the floodlights had stopped working.
3 - Owned a copy of the Non-League yearbook and read it in the bath. Aged 12.
4 - Chatted to a player from a team you support and told them that they'd had a 'good game'. Through gritted teeth, naturally.
5 - Performed the 'naming all the grounds in the football league' party piece.
As you might expect, this can cause some friction. Anyway, the problem is that I feel like I don't get to games even a quarter as much as I should: I compulsively read the When Saturday Comes forums and it seems to be packed with people like me (ie PhD-writing, krautrock-loving types) who seem to be getting to games all the time. I partially blame Norwich, a city where the non-league options are relatively limited. Anyway, I've promised that Budapest shall feature plenty of football, though I'm still open to offers regarding which team I'm going to support.
Whinges about clothes and nightclubs still to come...