Monday, 7 November 2016

I think we're all ready for Punk Football!

There were so many different reasons for a nine year-old boy to feel excited that day. 

I was going to see Chelsea play for the first time in my life. 
I was going to see Chelsea with my Dad. 
I was being taken to the football by the person who gave me the love of football in the first place.

Every child that was first taken to see their team play by a parent will know what that experience means. In the years to come, before any concept of bonding existed, my father and I did just that over our love of the Chelsea. 

We couldn’t unite over our love of watching the Chelsea play, because in those days our team only turned in a performance when their chakras were aligned with seven pints of Watney’s Red Barrel and a Ruby Murray.

Plenty to feel excited about on a unique day in that nine year-old’s life, yet only one shock gasp of pure pleasure and a moment of abject embarrassment have stayed lodged in my head since 1969.

My unexpected thrill came before the game, as my short legs climbed the last of a mountain of steps, and we emerged at the top of the West Stand. 

I hadn’t given the ground a moment’s thought, so it was wonderful to find myself involuntarily stopping in my tracks, looking out over the great expanse of deep green grass, sharply divided by perfectly pristine white lines, so unlike anything I’d ever seen in the muddy mires of the park or at school.

As my chin dropped in thrall, my eyes wandered around Stamford Bridge, looking vast with its greyhound track between the pitch and the crowd. The sound of the songs from the Shed transfixed my senses.

I couldn’t take my eyes off those crammed masses on Chelsea’s hallowed terrace, where the scarves swayed above the fans’ heads in a sea of blue.

Instantly part of me wanted to be down there, in the midst of the throng, but more, I was just loving being there with my dad.
That’s why, when the game finished 1-1, it was beyond painful to ask him when the replay would be.

“There’s no replay. It’s a league game.” he explained calmly, as inside my pre-teen head my voice roared I knew that! Why did I ask such a stupid question? Now he’ll think I don't know anything about football! Why did I ask that?

In the 70s and 80s football was very far from perfect. Fascists sold National Front newspapers outside the grounds, and when as a 17 year-old I went to stand in the Shed, I spent more time trying to stay away from fights than I did watching football. 

Mind you, to that teenager little compared to the tribal ecstasy of a mass of manhood, moving as one in outrageous jubilation, when we scored a goal.

More important than anything football might offer, my father and I went to football together for years. Having forced me to go to a school that insisted on Saturday attendance, Dad then colluded with me in schemes of skullduggery that required me to skive off on a Saturday afternoon.

At the sound of the bell after the last morning class, I’d shoot down the mile-long drive at full speed, hoping to break free before the Monitors arrived to guard the gates.

Then I’d jump on the train and head to Finchley Road tube, where my Dad was waiting in the car, engine running, parked on a double yellow, eager to head off to the ground.

It still feels wonderful to have shared those times of 40 years ago together. They were only possible because the game back then was completely accessible.

If you saved all the cut-out-and-keep coupons on the back page of the Chelsea matchday programme, you could send off for an FA Cup Final ticket. My Dad and I did just that, and went to two Wembley cup finals together.

If he were still alive today my father would no longer recognise the league we watched together. We had season tickets because regular people like us could afford them, and we’d turn up at away grounds, pay a couple of quid at the turnstiles and get tickets for game.

To have access to today’s Premiership you need to buy a club membership and then sell your youngest child into slavery, so that you can afford to take your other child to a game.

As letter writer Dave Robbie recently pointed out in the Irish Times, when the Lilywhites of Dundalk secured their third consecutive League of Ireland title, the club won the equivalent of 33% of Wayne Rooney’s weekly salary.

We know that footballers are today’s rock stars, their clubs the bands of the 21st century, and there’s no doubt the game has become too distant from its fans.

Before Punk, all we’d known were the supergroups. Disgustingly rich rock stars, performing half a mile away from fans who felt little affinity with them. 

Just as it was with those ‘progressive’ rock’ stars of old, it’s increasingly difficult to see our modern vain pampered footballers as heroes.

My relationship with Chelsea FC has changed fundamentally. My club is now a corporation, performing with all the common sense, compassion and integrity expected of a business entity.

Despite that, I still love the game, but I wonder: just as Punk replaced those inflated ego supergroups of the 1970s with street-level energy and enthusiasm, has the time finally come for Punk Football to hit the world?

Will a movement rise from people outraged by the greed inherent in the game?

Might we return football to its muddy grass roots? 
Can we rip it up and start again?
©Charlie Adley


Eduard Antoniu said...

Johnny Rotten liked VdGG & became neighbours/friends with the late E in ELP.

Charlie Adley said...

Didn't know that Eduard. I'm sure Mr. Lydon would say that to stay stagnant in one area of music would be an anti-punk stance. Then again, he also made TV programmes about insects and advertisements fora butter substitute. Very much his own man,just as he should be.