Match day always begins earlier than you plan. A week’s worth of early starts for work leaves you longing for a lie in on a Saturday, but – despite how obnoxiously premature your alarm clock always seems to feel Monday to Friday – even when its turned off on Saturday you wake up at pretty much the same time. Wide awake too.
Tossing and turning, trying to drift back off; but your mind is too occupied with thoughts. Thoughts about Bradford City’s prospects this afternoon quickly prompt a knot of fear in your stomach. There will be no going back to sleep now; not when there’s a debate raging in your head over who should be playing up front today or who Phil Parkinson will choose at right back.
Thoughts continue to swirl; about which pub to attend before kick off; about what music your friend will want to listen to on the car stereo en route to Valley Parade; about what time you need to be home by to make sure you’re not late for that curry with friends. A busy day ahead, but as long as City win it will prove to be an enjoyable one.
The wife gets up first, as usual. Downstairs to watch her favourite Saturday morning TV shows. Sleeping in has failed, you might as well get up too. Especially as the game has been in doubt and you need to check if it’s still on. Logging onto the Bradford City official website finds a cautiously optimistic statement that work is taking place on the pitch which should leave it playable. You keep coming back to check the latest every 20 minutes, while logging onto Twitter for local media updates. All looking good so far, despite the forecast of snow just before kick off.
Games that are in doubt always have a somewhat stranger build up. The manager and players talk of fully preparing for the match going ahead so they are not caught out; but as a supporter you look outside at the weather, consider the opponents and debate whether it would be the worst thing in the world if it was called off. Today is probably City’s most difficult home game of the season, and we will in all likelihood lose. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it was called off, when two key players – Kyel Reid and Luke Oliver – will not be 100% fit anyway…
Yet as no more news is forthcoming, you have to embark on your pre-match preparation. We’re setting off just after 12pm today; so breakfast, check website for updates, shower, put on the first three layers of the six you plan to wear this afternoon, check website for updates, think about having some lunch before set off, check website for updates.
Half an hour before its time to leave, the website has an update. The match is off; the club’s efforts over the past few days and since 5am this morning were in vain. Your first reaction is not to believe it, but as reality sinks in a sense of disappointment hangs in the air. Even though you were previously thinking the game being off wouldn’t be such a bad thing, you now want nothing more than to get going to Valley Parade as planned.
At least you won’t have to spend the afternoon shivering under six layers, cursing the fact you didn’t wear seven. At least you won’t have to risk that feeling of pain over a home defeat. At least you won’t have be left angry over yet another inept refereeing performance and the sense of justice it triggers. At least.
But at the same time, there is no longer the potential to have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon cheering on a surprise win. No getting off your feet to celebrate a City goal. No way of feeling inwardly warm over a terrific team or individual performance. No pre-match pint. No finding out just who would have played up front or at right back. No moving on from the frustration of the Bristol Rovers defeat last week.
So now what? An afternoon that was packed with activity is suddenly empty. Staying in the warmth and watching TV instead carries strong appeal, but still seems flat. There’s Football Focus on the BBC or West Ham v Millwall on Sky. I opt for the latter choice, but as entertaining as the game was it is hard to fully enjoy a clash between two sides you don’t particularly care for. It’s just not the same.
By the time City v Crawley was meant to be kicking off, you’re on with the housework. It might be warmer in the kitchen you’re cleaning, but you’d give anything to be freezing cold at Valley Parade right now, cheering on the players. It’s 3.45pm, I should be watching the half time football scores on a monitor inside the Kop concourse. It’s 4.30pm, I wonder what the score would have been if we’d played? Plymouth – the only League Two home team able to play their game and relegation rivals – have drawn 2-2, which means they’re still in the bottom two and we have two games in hand. Without playing, our prospects look slightly stronger. A minor victory.
Saturday afternoons at Valley Parade can be tortuous, gloomy, exasperating, wearisome and heartbreaking – but without them they are simply flat.
It’s nice to wake up on Sunday morning without feeling depressed about events from the day before – but win, lose or draw; the buzz and excitement of attending a football match on a Saturday is a lifestyle we love and are addicted to.
A Tuesday evening against Port Vale is next (oh and thanks fixture list planners for booking that on Valentine’s Day, doesn’t make our lives awkward at all), but midweek games carry a different routine altogether. It’s three weeks before we get another Saturday afternoon like we know and love. A match day in the truest sense seems a long way away.