On Wednesday I was fortunate enough to attend the Olympic football in Cardiff where Mexico saw off Switzerland and Team GB battled to a hard earned win over one of the pre-tournament favourites Uruguay.
Yet its not the results of these games that will stick with me when I look back on the experience. It’s not even the fact that Roy Hodgson and Trevor Brooking took their seats just a stone’s throw away from us or the fact that Luis Suarez had a shocker of a game and didn’t help himself to endear to us Brits once again. It was the sheer atmosphere of it all that will be on my mind for a long, long time.
From the moment I stepped out of Cardiff station around lunch time I had a feeling that this was going to be something special. Usually following the Cobblers away from home I’m used to nervously checking my surroundings when stepping onto a platform but this was a joyful change. Mexicans were streaming out of the station in traditional gear, sombreros, ponchos and all, the Swiss though less in number were cooly going about their business, South Americans were boisterous as they joined the party and the Brits, well, were just proud to be hosting this party.
I had the sense that this was a once in a lifetime event and that, to be honest, makes me a little sad.
In the past I admit to being tribal in my following of the Cobblers. A mere mention of Peterborough in a pub quiz, lecture or kick around would have me twitching. Now, coming away from what was a perfect setting for football, I feel I’ve changed.
Maybe it’s starting a family, maybe it’s having more than one person to protect and having that responsibility, but I’m starting to recognise that my outlook on football is changing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as passionate as any Cobblers fan, I still get into ‘the zone’ on Saturday afternoons whether I’m at the game or not, but I’m also starting to develop a much better empathy for other supporters and teams.
The Olympic football event was what how I now see myself wanting my football experience to be like. It may be frowned upon by many people who read this but I feel a need to blog about it so I hope it makes a bit of sense!
When I say I would like to see this atmosphere in the Football League I would still draw the line at segregation on the terraces. Whilst on this occasion it was nice to mingle with other countries’ supporters there really is nothing like celebrating like crazy with your own set of fans when a big goal goes in. I couldn’t imagine the special moments of the Cobblers’ recent history like the Wembley win, promotions and Anfield being celebrated next to opposition supporters. One of the great things about a big moment like that is that you get to embrace the moment with people who are feeling exactly the same as you and that shouldn’t change.
What I’m looking for is more interaction between fans before, during and after matches. The whole deal with some clubs, Town included as far as I know, that see ‘home pubs’ and ‘away pubs’ being abolished would be a start. If you set out before a ball is kicked with an attitude of ‘us v them’ then you set yourself up badly. Who is to say that given a chance, no sets of supporters can rub shoulders with each other before games? I’ve seen it work first hand at places like Torquay, Brighton, Cheltenham and AFC Wimbledon where I’ve always felt really welcome as a visiting supporter. What we need is for more clubs to at least try it out and get behind the mutual love of this game rather than head out with a blunt ‘no’ to letting visiting fans into ‘our’ establishments. If fans from Uruguay, the UK, Switzerland and Mexico can all have a ball in one place then I see no reason why fans from Rochdale, Carlisle, Bury, Yeovil, Exeter etc, can’t do the same week in week out.
One thing that’s working for me is Twitter. As a football fan, I’ve gained more and more followers over the last two years and the strange thing with it is that I feel like I know some people pretty well simply by following them and talking to them online of a Saturday. The basic tool to talk to fans of other football clubs immediately gives you a greater empathy for them. Whereas it used to all be about teams turning up and you not knowing much about them, social media means that it’s highly likely that we know at least one fan of each club and straight away the barriers are broken down because we’re less likely to feel like having a go at their manager, team or fans. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely working.
So how can we move forward? What I feel is needed is for us to share the feelings of joy, despair, heartache and love that comes with this game that we enjoy. We shouldn’t be afraid to be the ones to actually welcome opposition fans to our grounds, to go out of our way to talk to them rather than create mental segregations in the times when balls aren’t being kicked.
This latest chapter in my football watching life has (as you can see) left me mightily ponderous and I hope I’ve written this in a way that makes. Bit of sense and speaks to some people. I know I might be dreaming in a very hippy-like way that we can all get along, all laugh, marvel, debate and, most importantly, enjoy, the beautiful game together as fans but if one person reading this gets something from it then I’ll be happy.
Enjoy the build up to your seasons and maybe I’ll even meet some of you in the months to come!