How many of us can say that, back in the day, we really did knock on a neighbour’s door or peer at them over a garden fence and ask if we could have our ball back?
For me and my football loving friends in Brancaster, if that ball had just happened to decapitate a few of a certain neighbours fledgling broad bean shoots, then we had little to no chance of its recovery.
It’s a good job new ones were cheap and freely available. Remember the sound they made when you kicked them, their smell when you left them in the sun for too long and how, if you’d done that, they bounced higher and further?
I always preferred the orange and black Striker plastic football although the preference in the school playground at the time seemed to be the replica Tango balls with the added bonus of their having all the current First Division clubs at the time stamped on them including, and we tended to take it for granted for a while, the name of our own.
Decades on and we all seem to be asking a similar question.
Can we have our game back, please?
As things stand, our pleas are useless. Teardrops in rain as a famous movie line goes. Out of reach and, perhaps, gone forever.
Watching the reaction of some West Ham fans during their quiet capitulation at home to Burnley, I fully expected to react with how middle England is expected to do so at such times.
To be appalled and disgusted, to want to denounce them as ‘yobs’ and ‘hooligans’ before having a look at an online thesaurus and feeling better after I’d denigrated them further with a few more choice words of its choosing.
‘Brigand’. ‘Brute’. ‘Barbarian’. ‘Boor’. Yes, that’s better.
I can’t help but have a little sympathy for them. Now don’t get me wrong. Their choice of action was wrong, and I am not condoning it at all. Pitch invasions and the whole arms outstretched and ‘Come on then?’ gesture, that’s never right or justified. Infact it just looks bloody ridiculous, especially when it comes from a bloke wearing spray on jeans and white trainers. Whoop whoop, it’s the 1980s.
I’ve never, as it happens, invaded anything in my life, that is unless you count a fridge if their just happens to be a Mars bar or two in there. If that is the case, the yoghurts, cherry tomatoes and Tarama-bloody-salata doesn’t stand a chance, it’s a war zone in there.
But it’s my fridge and it’s in my kitchen. So, no-one is getting hurt.
Plenty of people were at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday. The Hammers were using the day and occasion to celebrate the life of Bobby Moore for heaven’s sake, a man whose standards were so impeccably high, he ironed his shorts before he took to the field. But maybe it’s fitting that the actions of the club’s fans overshadowed the man and tribute. Because Bobby Moore was, in the latter years of his life as callously disregarded by the game as the game now sees fit to treat its most vital asset: the fans who have made it what it is, or, rather, what it was.
Because whatever else football is, it isn’t ‘our’ game anymore.
We’ve all argued that the influx of big money into football at the time the Premier League was created has massively contributed to its depreciation as a spectator sport. I won’t labour that point here.
What I will say however, is how that money and the high levels of unrealistic expectation it has dragged along in its wake have brought another, most unwelcome, presence into the game that we all love.
This is, lest we forget, football. It’s game. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s ninety minutes of escapism once, maybe twice a week. It’s not, in the whole grand scheme of things, really that important.
Except it is.
So much so that, in their full and unwavering belief that their rightful place in the Premier League’s top six amidst a blur of high quality attacking football infected by goals, glory and grace, some Hammers fans have taken it upon themselves to take to the field in protest because their ‘right’ to a claret and blue footballing Nirvana has been denied them.
But not only them. Arsenal fans feel the same way. So do Newcastle supporters. Whilst, up at Goodison Park, Everton fans are getting a bit twitchy.
At least the supporters of West Brom will be temporarily mollified this week when Alan Pardew is sacked. But they’ll soon start up again when Mark Hughes or Paul Clement is appointed as his replacement.
Lots of money brings lots of expectation. But that’s all the latter can ever be. Scientists have spent billions of dollars in an attempt to prove the existence of life, intelligent or otherwise, beyond our planet and solar system. But they haven’t found it yet. And may never do so.
Football works in pretty much the same way. You can throw millions, maybe billions of pounds at a club in an attempt to change its fortunes. But it doesn’t, and never will, guarantee the results and change for the better that the clubs’ support expect by right.
Put it another way. Let’s say that every single Championship club is, come June 1st, given £1 billion to do exactly what they want with. It’s a gift. No debt, no conditions. It’s all yours.
By May next year there’d still be three going down and a set of fans crying at the end of the play-off final; their tears a prelude to the hate and fury that will soon demand change at the top as a consequence of that failure.
We’ve seen a little bit of that modern hate in and around the once cosy confines of our club over the last few days with regard to the announcement of our chance to invest in a special club Bond.
There are Norwich fans who think it’s a good idea, forward thinking and progressive and who want to be involved.
While there are others who believe it’s something a little short of an abhorrence and insult, a sign of how the club’s owners are supposedly not fit for purpose and who are now set to hang onto power, courtesy of a fan loan.
It’s not quite a yellow and green civil war. Not yet anyway. But there have been two separate fan factions within the Norwich support now for some time and the reaction to the Bond scheme has served to define those differences amongst us once again.
Norwich City we may be. But how long is it since the fans were united?
But, again, are we so different to fans of many other clubs?
We’ve seen the divide at West Ham and Arsenal. But they’re just two particularly high-profile examples. There are plenty more where they came from.
The problem is, whilst we are all set on arguing and fighting amongst ourselves, the game is, and at a quickening rate, disappearing out of sight as far as its accessibility to the average fan is concerned.
There are signs of a backlash. No, that’s too strong a word. A reaction maybe. A root and branch reaction.
Two packages in the latest TV deal remain unsold. Whilst those that were announced were, figures wise, a little down on the previous one.
While, slowly but surely, attendances and interest in the non-league game is creeping up.
The appeal of your local non-league club seems obvious. Local interest, local beer, cheap prices and freedom of movement around the club to start with. Plus, because the stakes are not so high, the implications of defeat and the associated levels of expectancy and entitlement disappear.
And before you know it, going to the football actually becomes enjoyable again.
You feel involved, you feel part of things, you feel as if you belong to something again. And we haven’t always had that at Carrow Road in recent years.
Something which, I feel, is what the club’s hierarchy had in mind when they developed and launched the Bond scheme.
Whether or not it succeeds remains to be seen. But if one of the intentions is to attempt to give the club’s support a chance to reconnect with their club then that can only be a good thing. Because if we don’t feel connected and part of our club’s ongoing future then what chance does the game as a whole have for the average supporter?
Those protesting West Ham fans clearly feel that the connection between them and their club has long gone. Their frustration is understandable even if their actions will, ultimately, do little or anything to help bring it back again.
Has that special connection with the game and our clubs that all football fans believed they once had, now gone forever?