Us playing them
13 February 2010
Our football team is playing them today. You can tell, because the station car park’s been closed off for crowd control.
It didn’t used to happen much, because the team here spent thirty years in the top division when clubs could still earn enough to compete off the gate receipts of proud old factory towns. They did the finance shuffle, rose up to the top and won the Cup, then borrowed even more to buy a team of men who’d never played together.
Last year, we didn’t know whether our town’s team would have a this year. The club came close to going bankrupt and the council supported it with posters on all the lamp-posts in the city centre, rather than anything more useful. Now it’s their turn, with players going unpaid (as if they can’t tide themselves over), catering staff and office workers not paid either, and the club on the verge of being wound up over an outstanding tax bill.
It must go back longer than we know – the men and boys and girlfriends in the pub as early as their normal supermarket shopping time must be acting out a rivalry with origins older than themselves, older than the stadia, older than football. The competing interests of two rival earls. Strike-breaking after the great liner sank. The mercantile navy and the warlike one. What sides had we both been on in the civil war?
Nearly everywhere I’ve lived, the local football team has had the same colours as this one. The only place where they had the same colours as them turned out not to be much fun.
The match kicked off at lunchtime, which is when the police ask clubs to play the trouble-spots. Less time for fans to drink, and, as important, more time for the police to process the offenders without getting to claim extra for working beyond their shift.
They scored four goals. I could hear the away fans roaring through my window, then the local fans dispersing, barking dogs. They‘re only two more wins away from the cup final – unless they get wound up, which means (the commentator speculated) our club would have to take their place instead.
Their fans and ours have their abusive nicknames for each other, drawn from industrial unrest and the civilian’s contempt for his identical opposite number in the military. But nobody from our club would want them to disappear. Would they?