By Jason McKeown
The question “what are you doing this weekend?” gets uttered in every office up and down the country hundreds of times on a Friday, and – working in a team of non-football-interested-women – I always feel a slight cringe of embarrassment when answering during the football season.
“I’m going to Swindon, to watch Bradford City”, or “I’m off to Bristol, to watch Bradford City”. “What are you doing with your Tuesday off?” is another question to prompt me to squirm. “Erm, I’m using my holiday allowance to visit Stoke to watch City play Port Vale.” They secretly question my sanity, maybe make polite questions feigning an interest (for my benefit) and we quickly move on to talking about something with far more universal appeal.
To many of us, football is all consuming, and dominates our lives between August and May. But although the popularity of the sport has increased dramatically over the past decade, there are still a great number of people who happily live outside of this bubble and successfully avoid allowing their weekends to be dominated by either by going to watch a team who lets you down, or hogging the TV for ‘Super Sunday’.
Yet the major summer tournaments – the World Cups, the European Championships – are different. They bring the country together in a manner which domestic football will never be able to achieve, turning fair weather fans into committed types, and attracting the attention of other people who would struggle to tell you who won last season’s Premier League. For those of us who love our football passionately and struggle on through the close season, these tournaments are a godsend.
It is a festival of football, during which you can become consumed as greatly or as little as you like. A nationwide community feeling emanates that can feel both exciting and frustrating to be a part of. Like your favourite band suddenly going mainstream and playing at larger venues, having to share something that is special to you with thousands of people who don’t quite understand it – and their own knowledge limitations on the subject – is a mixed blessing at best. Because whether you love or hate football, the Euros (and World Cups) are difficult to ignore.
As I was born in Wales and only moved to Yorkshire at 5 years old, I consider myself a Welsh Yorkshireman rather than English. I honestly care little over whether England excel or flop over the next few weeks. That lack of passion for Roy Hodgson’s men means I firmly take a back seat when their games are on. The committed football fans, who during the close season relish the fact I’m always willing company for your Blackburn vs Fulham Super Sundays, find me difficult to watch the games with due to my indifference (when England played USA in the World Cup two years ago, my best friend was close to punching me as I half heartedly cheered for USA, and I don’t blame him).
So when England are on, I happily retreat and hang out with the people who don’t normally care much for football but want to watch this with someone who can answer their questions with good grace and patience, and who won’t turn into a sulky five-year-old and storm off if England lose. It’s quite nice actually, especially as these friends are generally the ones that I’m most guilty of neglecting during the domestic season.
And it’s quite a fun atmosphere to be part of. A few weeks back I was watching Blackburn vs Wigan on TV at home and, when a friend rang up for a chat while watching the same game in his home, I forced him to turn the sound down on his TV and paused the game in my home, because I was so keen to watch the game properly without spoilers. When I watch City during the season, around me many people text friends the latest score and – on Twitter – some people provide updates or make comments about the performance that other people at Valley Parade respond to. I can only admire such people, but I’m too nervous to take my eyes off the game for a second in order to get involved with such matters. I am an anti social football fan.
So when England are in action at the Euros this summer, as with other tournaments, I will quite enjoy the greater relaxation of watching games with casual supporters and enjoying the feeling that this is not life and death. More often than not this involves watching the games in pubs – again something I hate doing during the regular season, as it’s always harder to follow the action closely – and let the committed, drink-fuelled people at the front add to the entertainment. It is great to be part of a community devoted to football for a few weeks, but it’s also great to be able to chill out and, you know, enjoy it.
Not that I’m disinterested with the Euros. I’ll be watching just about every match, making bargains with the wife about viewing group matches on TV every evening when she wants to watch something else. Since the football season ended, I’ve quietly let her watch whatever she wants on TV for weeks. She might not remember this when it comes to me attempting the hogging of the TV from next week, but I will be sure to remind her.
That said, I do feel guilty for non-football fans, the kind who aren’t bothered about jumping on the England bandwagon. The festival of football dominates the TV schedules for weeks, and becomes a huge conversation filler back at the office. If you hate football, this must be difficult to put with – just as much as I can’t stand the X Factor and get sick of everyone going on about it. England will only play a maximum of six games over the next month, but people like me – who care about all the other matches and, as a result, means Coronation Street has to be moved from its regular slot – we are the ones who truly make their lives a misery.
But what are we supposed to do? Pre-season friendlies don’t start until a week or so after the Euros, and this year – because of the Olympics – the next domestic season kicks off later. Bradford City’s first proper game will not be until the middle of August, still over two months away.
We need the Euros to keep us going, and unfortunately it’s a rather loud and obnoxious distraction that eats into everyone’s lives – and even turns those people, who normally join the football-haters in tutting at the rest of us, into supposed experts over who Roy should play up front.
I guess the next time I tell my work mates I’m off to Bristol Rovers away, they will look at me and feel relief that normal service has been resumed.