Sunday, 6 January 2019


“How was your trip?”

“Great, thanks!”

“So what did you get up to?”

“Oooer. Blimey. So much.”

Inside my skull my brain spins this way and that, like an agitating tumble dryer loaded with conversations.

Standing in the away section of Watford FC’s Vicarage Road, on narrow concrete steps between my friend and other middle-aged men who make me feel less than fat. 

All have anoraks zipped up over their half barrel bellies, and before the game they seem jolly and avuncular.

I laugh at something said, at which point the True Blue behind me turns and asks

”So who do you want to lose it most - Liverpool or Spurs?”

Here in the heart of Chelsea’s diehard supporters I know this is not the time for me to go off on one, opining about how I love the game whenever it’s played well, and how watching both those teams at the moment is a pleasure.

No. I say exactly what I’m meant to say.

“If it’s got to be one there’s only one it’s got to be, ain’t there.”

He nods and approves, as I have correctly shown my understanding of the age-old rivalry between Chelsea and Spurs.

It’s impossible for me to be at a Chelsea game and not mourn for my father. He first took me to Stamford Bridge when I was a boy of nine, and then he bought me a season ticket seat next to his.

We went to Wembley twice together for cup finals and those Saturdays spent together forged eternal bonds, to which I’m happily shackled today, ten years after his death.

That’s why I sang my heavy heart out when the Chelsea fans decided to celebrate Christmas by belting out a roaring rendition of our Yuletide classic, to the tune of ‘The First Noel’.

“Out from The Shed came a rising young star,
Scoring goals past Pat Jennings,

From near and from far,
When Chelsea won,

As we all knew they would,
The star of that great team was Peter Osgood!

Osgood, Osgood!
Osgood, Osgood!
Born is the king of Stamford Bridge!”

Who cares about rhymes at times such as this?

Then the game started and this cosy Band of Blue Brothers around me instantly transformed into beings of incandescent rage, bile and hatred.

Guess I was out of practice. Hadn’t been to a game for years. I’d forgotten what it’s like.

Here I live a gentle life in which it’s unusual to encounter public displays of outright aggression.

The bloke next to me, with whom I’d been sharing a giggle, was now using every ounce of strength in his body to reach out his pointed finger and scream at the linesman, not 10 yards way.

“‘Ere you f***king moron, did you get that f***king Hitler moustache for f***king  Christmas you f***king blind c**t.”

They were all at it, behind me, below, all of them, sending my mental tumble dryer back to a conversation with a taxi driver the day before.

The car rental companies were asking silly money for the festive season and there were no buses, so I took taxis when lifts weren’t available, enjoying the company of intelligent, sensitive cabbies who, given the time of year, were mostly Muslims.

“So why’d you leave England, then?” he asked.

“Because I felt so tired of the anger. So many people in England exist a hair’s breadth from a fight, and that’s not the world I want to live in. Don’t get me wrong, mate, I love England and I’m proud to be English, but I just don’t want to live here, that’s all.”

He laughed. As a cabbie he completely understood.

Back in the stadium, as if I wasn’t missing my dad enough, the Chelsea fans burst into a rendition of the Liverpool slum song, which may have had some political poignancy in 1967, but now sounds like the soundtrack to a vile black and white newsreel, running around the ground.

Overwhelmed by memories and the power of the crowd, I forget who I am and find myself singing along...

“You look in a dustbin for something to eat,
You find a dead cat and you think it’s a treat…”

I’d packed my Chelsea scarf, but before we left for the game I asked my mates if I should wear it. What’s the story, these days?

Both decided I was better off not to, just to be on the safe side.

Mental tumble rumble tumble as I reflect on how shocked I felt years back, when I saw my Dublin friend who lives in Mayo give his son the blue jersey to wear.

“Isn’t that asking for it? Won’t he get beaten up in school?“

“Not at all!” scoffed my friend, in his rich deep voice, ”We all stand together here!”

Away from the mindless hostility, football offers refuge and benign escapism to middle aged men. We watch, follow and support out teams without question. You win draw or lose and you play well or badly.

It’s a no-brainer.

I gave both the friends in this story team shirts, even though one’s a Tottenham fan!

It was a no-brainer.

We like no-brainers, men do. Just watch us shop.

Tumble away to more cabbie conversations.

“So how does all this Brexit stuff look to you over there in Ireland? Are you all wondering why the English chose to vote for recession?”

From strangers and my closest kin I enjoyed much care and kindness. I sat on my sister’s sofa with my 89 year-old mum on my left, a friend of 45 years to my right, holding my baby great-nephew in my arms.

How was my trip?

It was wonderful and hard, sad and joyous. 

It was easy and exhausting, a pleasure and essential.

I felt loved.
I felt both lost and at home in the place that I come from.

Only here in the West of Ireland do I feel I belong.

©Charlie Adley

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