A few eclipses ago I was not a stranger to professional footie and, almost without exception, the experiences were not uplifting. In fact, it was a riot. There was a visit to Leicester where the fans were revolting (running battles in the street), likewise at Portsmouth (running battles on the pitch and the street) and at Slough, where the Rebels (that is what the non-League side were called) fought Millwall in an FA Cup tie.
Millwall had a player sent off . The door to the changing room was locked so he kicked it in, thereby triggering an uprising. In the "boardroom", in between mouthing obscenities and sandwiches simultaneously, the Millwall chairman succeeded in pebble-dashing my face with bits of egg, bread and spam in 3-3-4 formation.
Without a doubt, however, the low point was a visit to Highbury, where Arsenal were playing Manchester United. The score was 0-0 and, this is not an exaggeration, would have remained goal-less had the teams played without goalkeepers. In 90 minutes of the most anaemic, negative match in history, you could have had Sid Bonkers in one goal and Doris in the other and it would still have been 0-0.
Had it taken place in a boxing ring, the contestants would have been barracked and dope-tested. It was such an uninspired affair, so completely devoid of ambition, it gave rise to the suspicion that the teams had been got at by a Malaysian betting cartel. What happened next was equally dispiriting. If ever a crowd had reason to riot this was it. Nothing.
If the fan wasn't going to hit the shits, surely the crap would hit the fan at the post-match inquest. Nothing. Fleet Street's finest tucked into some lobster thermidor (all right, it may not have been lobster but it was certainly not spam) and could barely manage an interesting question between them. Ron Atkinson, the United manager, wearing a loud suit and more jewellery than the Queen Mother, and Terry Neill, the Arsenal supremo, sporting a track suit, stood with their backs to the bar, the former drinking champagne, the latter a half of lager and lime.
Don't you think the fans deserve an apology? Don't you think they should be given free admission for the next match? Don't you think the players should be docked a week's wages? Aren't you ashamed?
None of these questions were asked and the managers said something about the sides cancelling each other out. I felt like throwing up. I hated the way Neill sipped that insipid drink. Why didn't he have a pint of lager and at least show some solidarity with the fans?
The landscape was not entirely bleak. I once went to Stamford Bridge and saw Alan Butcher, the Surrey opener, hit a six. It was some short- lived experiment with floodlit cricket, but that wasn't what I was going to say.
I once stood on the terraces at Stamford Bridge and saw Manchester United beat Chelsea 3-2, Bobby Charlton scoring one of his thunderbolts from around 40 yards. Who did I go with, I hear you say? As you ask, it was my old colleague, Greg Dyke, then a humble news hound on the now defunct Evening Mail. Greg, of course, went on to become a director of United and Director General of the BBC, which only goes to show.
Generally, though, while acknowledging the universal appeal of the game, I can't warm to the inane chants, the money, the stupid shirts, the offside law, the agents, most managers, all chairmen, the constant spitting, Shearer, the endless gum-chewing of Ferguson, the aimless 35-yard balls played by every left and right-back in Britain, the smug studio debates, Giggs' permanent frown, the non-stories, the money, James Alexander Gordon, the shirtless fans, the huge sheepskin coats worn by BBC commentators when winter comes, Chris Evans, Nationwide's sponsorship (nobody asked their members), cabinet ministers who feel it is politically correct to be seen following a fashionable club, United not defending the FA Cup, Beckham's stupid hair, and the Costa del Sol, which is full of directors in dodgy saunas having a laugh at the supporters expense.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I just don't behold it. I wasn't cut out for it. I went to a rugby school, Neath Grammar, where anybody caught playing with a soccer ball got six of the best. I am also indebted to my grandfather, Herbert Ebenezer Glover, who was chairman of Neath RFC, for showing me the light.
Is it possible to support both soccer and rugby? Do me a favour...Reuse content