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I Watch Him



I'll start with a confession: I've never watched a football match, not properly.

Being a girl, it's quite easy not to be into football, beyond having a tolerance for painting little flags onto people's faces when important games happen, and having a passing interest in the life of David Beckham (hasn't he done the transition from sex god to caring dad ever so well?) But being a girl in England, football is always just kind of there.

It's a bit like politics; you're not always too sure of what is going on, except to know that it's kind of important to everyone, and men in suits talk about it endlessly on tv. I could probably tell you more about the performance of the WAGs than the players over the last ten years, which is another confession rather than a statement of pride.

And yet. I have three brothers, and a dad, who are all immense Arsenal fans. I am the youngest, by quite some way, and sort of just slotted into an existing family whose routines and traditions include an absolute commitment to the club and the game. One of my earliest memories - I was maybe three and a half - is of sitting on scratchy green swirly carpet next to a foamy glass of beer, listening to my dad and brothers responding to the funny programme on tv; men with odd haircuts, red shirts and very white shorts running around. 

I can remember weekend plans revolving around this mysterious concept, some days we had to stay at home to sit indoors and wait patiently for the game, other times no one was around to drive me places, and then everyone would appear late in the day full of testosterone, emotion and analyses.

I have a knowledge by osmosis - I know that I don't like Chelsea, and that the idea of Spurs is lightly repulsive, without being quite sure why. The processes of allegiance, of loyalty and of judgement, are terribly clear, yet also a bit out of reach. It's like going on holiday to Spain and learning the traditions, stories and heroes of the local town during your fortnight's residence, buying completely and genuinely into the experience, without really understanding the rules.  You just smile, and nod.

Learning the language helps. Controversial decisions, offside rules, poor refereeing. I joined my family, as a tiny demanding 4 year old, parroting "ref!" at appropriate moments, delighting them with my response. They were probably disappointed when, as a precocious 7-year-old, I would flounce off to my bedroom at 3pm on a Saturday, where plastic ponies would give a better quality of attention than people who were immeasurably more interested in the goings on on pitch than my latest attempts at a handstand.

I never quite got into it. The prospect of actually attending a match still fills me with terror, rather than adrenaline and anticipation; I read some of the stories already here, and yet can't quite understand. What seems to you to be an essential, communal, visceral activity, seems to me to be an overwhelmingly loud and claustrophobic experience, too fraught with failure to properly enjoy. I sometimes sit with my dad now, on a nicer carpet, still with the beer and the analysis (fewer handstands) and rather than watch the game, I watch him. The kindest, most gentle person I know, concentrated, anxious, hopeful. I really, really want you guys to win. Because it makes him happier than anything else when you do.

Reader Comments (2)

This is great piece, Holly. I hope your Dad will stay happy for a very long time!

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEast Stand Gooner

what a gem. This is so good! Great job Holly! Hi to Dad and brothers :)

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMadRuskiGunner
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