Sunday 30 April 2017


“Well I usually read your colyoom, ‘cept not when you write about football.”

It’s never a mystery to me why people find football a complete turn-off, but each time I hear someone dismiss it, a tiny flame goes out inside.

"It’s on all the time and it messes with the soaps and oh, do we really have to talk about football?"

Okay, I understand, but you’re missing out on so much if you think football is merely sport. Anyway, I promise not to drone on about the game itself.

It’s Sunday morning. While you couldn’t give a damn who’s playing who, while my life is delicately poised between two FA Cup Semi-Finals.

My excellent friend Whispering Blue is sitting in the kitchen, twitching with anticipation, because his Manchester City Blues are next up in Wembley, playing Arsenal for a chance to meet Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.

In London I know that my two nieces and my mother will be privately celebrating Chelsea’s victory. I’ve a brother-in-law and a nephew who will be shouting for Arsenal, while another nephew, two of my best friends and my father-in-law are right now all feeling robbed and gutted, because they watched their Spurs team play better than Chelsea yet still lose. 

“Welcome to the modern game!” said Shearer.

Oops. Sorry. Veered dangerously close to talking about football there, when I promised you life.

The point is that scattered around the world, living separate lives in different time zones, all of us were connected for a couple of hours. Such is technology, we didn’t even have to be watching the game together. 

One friend on a life mission road trip didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so through a WhatsApp group we kept him up to date.

In some ways we were telling him about the game. In others we were saying:

“Good luck mate! We’re right beside you.”

This is not a case of emotionally inept men, only able to exchange emotions through the catharsis of a silly game. 

My friend knew I was with him in spirit because I’d already told him. After a lifetime of friendship, some things can go unsaid, but I find it better to say them anyway. Especially if they’re about love … and football!

Another lifelong friend had us in stitches of laughter during the game. He and his girlfriend kept missing goal after goal when they went to the loo.

When he went, Chelsea scored. When she went, Spurs scored. The fact that they were in another country was irrelevant. We were all having a giggle together.

Lonely and friendless, in the darkness of early dawn, I stood in San Francisco’s Lower Haight, in a queue outside the Mad Dog in the Fog pub. England v Holland, and I got chatting to this tall grey-haired geezer with a voice more London than Thames mud.

His words fired wit, his charismatic eyes brimmed with mischief, and later that day he unwittingly showed me up for the disgusting snob I didn’t know I was.

He was born in Clapham, and to my dainty bourgeois ears he could not have sounded more working-class. After a tremendous game he invited me back to his gaff for a drink or three.

“Where do you live? The Marina, eh? Oooh, very fancy shmancy. So what is it you do? Oh, you’re the Vice President of a Marine Insurance Company, and wow, blimey, look at the size of your house. It’s a bleedin’ mansion!”

The English class structure has a lot to answer for, yet football bridges it completely.

Before I get a sock in the ear from the wife, I have to point out that it’s not only men who realise that football is about the people in your life.

The Snapper would be furious to feel excluded. As she asserted many years ago, converts are far more fanatical than lifelong followers. They add their own zeal and impatience to catch up on the lost years. 

Has to be said that back then she wasn’t exactly allergic to the startlingly handsome young Jose Mourinho, but she will inevitably complain that she joined up before the arrival of the Special One, during the reign of Tinkerman Ranieri.

Sitting here now I remember how we laughed together, when we observed that Italian gentleman Claudio wore the expression of a man who’d had his bicycle stolen.

Yes, that’s a bone fide soft focus fluffy memory, linked to football, but nothing to do with the game.

Today my father lives strong in my memory. At the age of nine I went with him to the 1970 FA Cup Semi Final at White Hart Lane, to jump and shout as shrilly as any over-excited pre-pubescent lad might, as Chelsea thrashed Watford 5-1. 

Four decades on, the memory lives strong of the moment two weeks later, when he announced at the breakfast table that he’d saved and sent off all the little coupons in the Chelsea programs, and in return they’d just sent us two FA Cup Final tickets.

Was he really taking me to Wembley?

My excitement wasn’t about the football, because I felt precisely the same when I watched the Apollo 11 moonlanding with him.

Football is so much more than kicking a ball. It’s about bonding with your dad and having a laugh with your wife. It’s about being able to actively support a friend in need far away, or making new friends that last a lifetime.

Yes, modern football is a corrupt game played by overpaid prima donnas, but before you wholly condemn it, take a moment to appreciate how the Beautiful Game is also a unique doorway into a random, rootless, classless international family.

©Charlie Adley

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