First published in The Grecian, 20 October 2007, Exeter City -v- Rushden & Diamonds
I felt quite lost last weekend. For the first time in six weeks, there was no obvious football match to go to. Bereft of action at St James’ Park after two good home wins (a hard-fought 1-0 against Grays and that six goal rollercoaster ride with Salisbury City), I found myself up in London and the Southeast on a work assignment. So while you were cheering England or Scotland on the telly, I was delivering a seminar in the wilds of Chichester.
Strictly speaking I could have popped along to see Brentford on Friday night. But it was the other side of the town, I needed cheering up, the alarm was due to go off frighteningly early the next morning… and, well, Griffin Park isn’t exactly a theatre of dreams right now. More like a parking lot of gritted teeth. So I sent the Bees a quick good wish via my beer glass instead.
Recognising that the grimmer realities of lower league football have not historically deterred me from hitting the turnstiles, I realise that the decisive factor in my decision to sit out Brentford’s 1-1 tie with Peterborough was the fact that I would have had to rush to the game straight from a meeting, probably arriving in my seat breathless and programmeless about 28 seconds before (or after) kick off.
That’s definitely not how I like to do things. I may be almost late for everything else in life, but when I attend a football match I like plenty of time to get myself oriented beforehand and soak up the atmosphere when I arrive at the ground.
Footballers are well known for their often bizarre pre-match routines. But we fans have our rituals too, and not just those (like our gallant Exeter stewards, club and Trust officials) who help to get everything prepared for the big occasion.
In my case, getting ready for an afternoon with the Grecians is nothing too dramatic. But it feels very much part of the total ‘live football process’, nonetheless. After one or household activities, I like to settle down to BBC1’s Football Focus for my weekly dose of argument, comment and homely cliché. Then it’s on to the net to re-familiarise myself with the past week’s developments, drop into Exeweb (as a lurker rather than a participant) and generally get distracted from whatever else I could more usefully be doing.
For some strange reason, I never have lunch before a football match, unless I’m meeting up with friends. Instead, my body seems to crave a big bag of citrus fruit and a flask of unfeasibly milky tea to sustain me through all those frantic goalmouth incidents. That and a choccie bar or bottle of Fair Trade orange juice from the EFC catering outlets. The people who sit near me must wonder what on earth’s going to come out of the bag and go down my neck next.
Living in Heavitree, I need to allow about 20 minutes to walk to the ground. That means departing about 2pm, as I like to have time to pick up my copy of The Grecian, get to my seat in good time, catch up on the gossip … and commence my solo eat-a-thon. Something to do with concentration I think. If you need a Satsuma, just give me a nudge.
After the game it’s a dash back for the results and analysis. Then there’s only four hours or so until Match of the Day. And they say football fans have a one-tracked mind. Go figure.