Fan's eye view: Dropping the cold donkey

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The Independent Online
ONLY 10 days to go now, and I'm getting nervous. This is the 20th year in a row I have felt like this, and it doesn't get any better. From the second Saturday in May, through to the middle of August, I have a restless, twitching demeanour. I wake up in a cold sweat, I daydream. This ailment, this fever, this malady has a name. It is known as The Close Season. I am suffering, for all intents and purposes, from a distinct lack of football.

Football is like a drug to me. I am hopelessly addicted to it. When I am deprived of its sights, sounds and smells, I experience a form of cold turkey, perhaps in footballing parlance, cold donkey. I am married and 26 years old. This should not happen to the likes of me.

During the summer I find myself inexplicably behaving as if I were at a match. Only last week I was caught chanting 'What a waste of money' at the Royal Yacht Britannia. The week before I was severely and publicly reprimanded for shouting 'Who's the w****r in the black'. The other guests at my friend's wedding were absolutely appalled. So was the vicar.

I have tried other sports. Where a football match is a fast-food feast, cricket is a five-day dinner party where each course consists of a very small amount of something I don't like very much but eat because it's there. Fortunately, the cricket match I chose to attend was the fourth day's play in the England v South Africa Test and it was all over in an hour and a half, but the whole occasion lacked live football's gut-wrenching excitement. I thought about going to Wimbledon this year, but after watching Wimbledon FC for 18 years the temptation to call out 'Come on you Dons' would be too great to resist. While most people are enjoying the summer, I am enduring it, wishing it was winter. I even buy Shoot], a football magazine for teenagers. I always make a point of telling the newsagent that it's for my brother. This would sound more convincing if it were not for two things: 1) My newsagent is my father and 2) I am an only child.

You would have thought by now that I would have got used to The Close Season, but just as some people are constantly surprised at how early it gets dark in October after the clocks have gone back so every May I am struck by the fact that it will be at least 12 weeks before I am again able to take my seat in the stand and bellow instructions at people who are highly skilled and highly paid to do the sort of things with a ball that I can only dream of.

Admittedly, the World Cup does serve as a sort of half-way house between the end of one season and the beginning of another, but it is not the same thing at all. Odd years are the worst, with no championship football of any description. In those years it can sometimes feel as though the new season will never come, until, that is, the fixtures are published. It is a sign. Of course, with this season's 'staggered start' I now have the beautiful euphoria of two first days. I know that the beginning is in sight; the floodlight at the end of the tunnel.

It is only then, after I have blue-tacked The Dons' fixtures to my fridge, that I can picture myself at Selhurst Park, wearing my blue and yellow shirt, which bears the legend 'FLATBACK 4', and waving to my friends who used to stand behind the goal but now, reluctantly, have to sit. The same friends who used to call me 'soft' for sitting. I wasn't soft after all . . . just ahead of my time.

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