We are so lucky to have had Kevin Baldwin on the MFW roster. A trawl through his MFW back catalogue, in search of a ‘From the Archive’ piece, was a timely reminder of what a brilliant writer he is, and that’s before we even get to Norfolk ‘n’ Good (still available on Amazon and in all good bookshops 😉 ).
I was spoilt for choice but, for me, this one, penned in the aftermath of a home defeat by QPR in September 2008, is an absolute beaut – not least because Kev describes perfectly the joy of being inside Carrow Road.
And how we miss that right now.
You’ll have to excuse me, I feel a bit funny.
Or rather, I don’t. Not funny haha, anyway.
The thing is, I’ve ‘entered a period of consultation’ with my employer.
It’s a horrible euphemism for what it actually means, but then there’s no nice way of putting it.
Perhaps I should be grateful they didn’t say they were ‘letting me go’, which I assume is meant to conjure up the image of a majestic animal being released into the wild to run free and unconstrained but, in reality, means being forced to live on your wits and scavenge for scraps to survive.
In the circumstances, I don’t feel inclined to levity. I’m even thinking of writing a letter of complaint to the publishers of Joshua Ferris’ admittedly excellent novel ‘And Then We Came To The End’, set in a Chicago ad agency during a period of constant staff cutbacks.
The book has been promoted as ‘The Comic Novel of the Year’, but what may be amusing as fiction is rather less so when it’s non-fiction and you’re one of the staff being cut back.
Now, you may be thinking that this is all very unfortunate, but what does it have to do with football?
Rather a lot, as it happens.
At times like this, you turn to the constant things in your life for support and consolation. Family obviously tops the list, but football’s really not far behind.
How many things remain with us throughout our lives? Our home changes, our priorities and opinions change. Even our religion may change. Friends come and go; jobs go and, hopefully, come again.
But when you follow a football team, it’s with you for life. The reason the ‘City till I die’ chant is so powerful is because it’s based on a truth.
Of course, there are other passions which can stay with you. A passion for art, for example. Or music. Or literature. Boethius and Alain de Botton (no, they’re not Chelsea’s latest foreign imports) have both found enduring consolation in philosophy.
But what abides with me, and probably with you too, since you’re here reading this, is football.
There’s always a lot of talk about how the game is changing, and it is, but when you strip away the inflated salaries, the mischievous agents, the TV deals, the ‘global brands’ and the billionaires, the experience of going to a game is essentially the same.
And in that familiarity there is enormous comfort. At least, that’s how I felt at the QPR game last Wednesday evening.
The usual walk to the ground. The usual packet of Polos and a Golden Goal ticket (Even though I now suspect it’s even harder to win a prize than I thought, after the time of Darel Russell’s goal against Birmingham was announced as 45 minutes and 65 seconds).
The colour, the noise, the fug of the refreshment area under the River End stand. The familiar faces, the familiar seat.
Sitting in that seat, I had an overwhelming sense of the past, present and future. I thought back to all the times I’ve come to a game with a problem on my mind, an essay to write, a brief to crack, a job to find (for I’ve been through this before), and been able to forget about it for 90 minutes.
Not because I have been magically transported by the thrilling entertainment on show, you understand; it’s generally been a case of swapping one set of frustrations for another, but at least the ones outside the ground have been temporarily forgotten.
I also thought forward to the times when I’ll bring my children along to matches. (My son got his first kit for his second birthday at the start of the month. It looks great, but now that the sponsor’s name appears on the back of the shirt as well as the front, I worry that some of the neighbours think we’ve named our son Aviva.)
There’s also something engrossing and satisfying about the simple spectacle of a ball pinging around on a pitch with 22 men (well, 21 after half an hour) battling to stick it in the opposition’s net. It’s a sight that still makes me pause to watch for a bit whenever I pass a park game on a Sunday.
While I didn’t get to let out a roar of release and redemption (that came three days later when Lee Croft’s shot hit the back of the net), I still took great heart from the QPR game.
Yes, even though we lost.
And even though it cost me a small fortune to get to the match, having bought peak-time rail tickets for the Tuesday evening before it was switched to Wednesday.
And even though I didn’t get back home until 1.45am.
‘Never mind,’ my wife said, ‘it’s not as if you’ve got work in the morning’.
For the first time in several days, I laughed out loud.