Adrian Chiles: I don't believe in Santa, I just put my faith in West Brom

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The Independent Football

The first half of the football season has been momentous for me. I've found myself presenting Match of the Day 2 and, for the first time too, writing a newspaper column. Life is sweet. Apart, of course, from the performance of my football team. As ever, the performance of West Brom serves as a useful emotional counter-balance, warding off smugness. An uncomfortable reminder that in life as in football your fortune can (and will) fall as well as rise.

The first half of the football season has been momentous for me. I've found myself presenting Match of the Day 2 and, for the first time too, writing a newspaper column. Life is sweet. Apart, of course, from the performance of my football team. As ever, the performance of West Brom serves as a useful emotional counter-balance, warding off smugness. An uncomfortable reminder that in life as in football your fortune can (and will) fall as well as rise.

Writing this column has provided some reassurance. Your correspondence has provided evidence, if it were needed, that in this football-supporting caper there is always, but always, someone dafter than you; more anally retentive than you; more obsessed than you; more eccentric than you. And more fed up of the whole sorry business than you.

Last month, as I contemplated a long winter march towards relegation, I asked if there was a way of stopping myself caring so much. Could there be a cure for the football disease? All but one correspondent gave it to me straight: you've had it, you're stuck with it. But Gary Maunder had this advice: "Realise that football is a business; where teams with lots of money are the only ones with a chance; where people earn vast sums and act like spoilt brats and thugs. They have spoilt irreversibly the beautiful game, so what can you do if you have any morals? Stop supporting it. Yours, ex-Fulham season ticket holder and ex-Sky Sports subscriber."

I envy him a bit but mainly I pity him because he reminds me of a kid who's realised that Santa doesn't exist. He's lost the ability to suspend disbelief and that makes supporting anyone difficult. On balance, I'd rather stick with it. As I too strongly suspect Santa doesn't exist I'll just have to believe in the Albion instead.

Another Fulham fan, who for reasons that will become clear I won't name, stuck with it and had more cause than most to regret doing so. He'd been with them more than 30 years through thin and thin, "So when in August 2001 my dream came true I was not going to let a minor discomfort in the back passage deter me from seeing our first game back when we beat Sunderland." Yes, that's right folks, he said back passage.

"I saw a recto-colon man, who thought I had an abscess in the anal funnel." Clearly this was far too much information but, fascinated, I read on. "We agreed that I could wait a week. This proved a bad call on my part as sepsis set in and after that the human flesh disease. I almost pegged it and 32 operations and three and a half months later I left hospital to see Fulham beat Newcastle 3-2. I do speculate that if Fulham had played their first match away, the abscess would probably have been removed in one day." Words fail me. Thankfully, he's made a full recovery.

Alarming, but in a different way, was David Garrett, a West Brom supporter in Stourbridge: "Dear Adrian, you think that you have problems. I have converted a room in our house to a 20-seat cinema. Every time the Baggies are on TV I video the game, stay away from the result and play it in the cinema, sitting on my own. We have had the cinema for 18 months now and I have yet to see us win a game in the Premiership." I dismissed all this as fantasy until I opened the attached photographic evidence.

Predictably enough, my article about Pete Boyle, writer of many of Manchester United's terrace songs, elicited a strong response. Nobody, other than United fans obviously, thanks you for being nice about United, so I'll get Mark Cole's contribution out the way early doors, as Big Ron used to say. Mark remembers a tribute to the Neville brothers when they were callow youths. Incidentally, was Gary's facial hair at that time even more pubescent then it is now? Anyway, to the tune of "Rebel Rebel":

"Neville, Neville; they play in defence./Neville, Neville; their future's immense./Neville, Neville; they ain't half bad./Neville Neville; the name of their dad."

Alistair Murray, a Newcastle fan, gives due credit to Boyle and the Man Utd choir but isn't shy - with good reason - about bigging himself and the Toon Army up: "I have some distinctive credits in my back catalogue: for example, the one about Alan Shearer being the leader of the gang, although the present version is a remix of an original I co-wrote with my mate Big Hoss about Alan Shoulder." Advanced stuff this. "I also take credit for the classic one-hit wonder about Ruel Fox in his black 'n' white socks. And then there's the glam rock classic from 1974, sung of course to the "Blaydon Races": 'I went to Wembley Stadium, 'twas on the ninth of May,/ Nineteen hundred and seventy-four and what a canny day./We showed the scousers how to sing, we showed them how to sup./The only thing we didn't do was win the FA Cup'."

A contribution from further down, much further down, the food chain, came from Alistair Harris, Huddersfield fan: "Our captain is the Nigerian international Efe Sodje. This summer his younger brother, Akpo, was brought in. Akpo proceeded to score a few reserve goals and on making his first team debut the Terrier faithful came up with this: 'He ain't Efe, he's his brother.' Genius." Indeed.

And while we're in Huddersfield I urge football fans everywhere to give themselves a little present this Christmas. It won't cost you anything. All you need is a computer; an internet connection, and some tissues to wipe away the tears of laughter. Go to www.htfc-world.com

I cannot believe there's a more inspired fans' website in the world. If the report of the play-off final last May against Mansfield doesn't get you smiling, then you have a more serious football problem than me. Merry Christmas.

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

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