Football: Outside edge - Man-marked by an anorak

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The Independent Online
ARE YOU like me? Hate blank Saturdays? Those awful barren weekends when your team's no longer in the Cup. Or the ones they've taken to introducing prior to midweek internationals. Horrendous, aren't they?

Some say it provides the perfect opportunity to support your local non- League side. And, I dare say, a totally genuine football supporter would do just that. Enter into the spirit of footy and so on.

Me?

Well, to he quite honest, I can't be arsed.

Don't get me wrong: I have tried it. The problem is, it's tended to backfire. True, there can be distinct compensations. The reduced chances of a coronary in the absence of Liverpool's back five, to name just one. All in all, though, it's not the same. You just can't get as involved as when it's your own lot.

I liken it to those tedious school Christmas plays in which your friends' kids are involved. You know the sort. You pretend you're having a whale of a time, when all you really want is get to the pub or go home and see the smiling Chris Tarrant roasting his contestants on the spit.

Or perhaps even watch the entire 10 seconds of Stig Bjornebye's Greatest Crosses video. But no. You're stuck with it whether you like it or not. Feigned enthusiasm or a good kicking from the missus. Either way, you know you're cornered.

"Oh aye. Yeah, thanks for inviting us. Loved every second. The kids were brilliant. So natural.

"Best bit? Phew, you've got me there. Difficult one. I suppose when your Enya dropped the baby Jesus on his head. Yeah, I enjoyed that. Kids, eh? Who'd have them?

"In fact, it's a pity we can't see the whole thing again, you know... We can? Tomorrow night?

"Er... actually... er... isn't that insurance guy coming tomorrow night, pet?"

Mind you, boredom and indifference aren't the only reasons for not going to watch non-League football. I mean, when you do go, you invariably end up next to the real amateur football nut.

You must have met him. The flat cap that's survived more pigeon attacks than Sammy Nelson's column. The muffler that first saw action in the Crimea. The blotchy fawn gabardine that could find its way home on its own.

This guy has not watched a top flight game since Alf Common's pounds 1,000 transfer in 1905. What's more, from the smell coming from his coat, the cheese sandwich he took with him that day is still in his pocket. Despite it all, though, this fellow recognises a soft target when he sees one.

"Haven't seen you here before."

"Nah."

"Liverpool's game off, then?"

"Yep."

"Can't stand those big jessies, you know. Now these fellas here are real footballers. Love the game. Play for buttons, they do."

And you can't get away from him, no matter how hard you try. You walk right round the pitch and he's with you all the way. Babbling down your ear. It's like Nobby Stiles marking Eusebio at Wembley. Before long people start noticing. Even the players and the ref are getting suspicious.

It's at that point you realise your decision to wear your full length Ron Atkinson mac was a big mistake. Clearly it gives off the wrong vibes. Especially next to his. These days, you see, non-League footy is strictly for anoraks only.

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