The Beautiful Game

The season has begun.

Buses full of chatter head towards the ground. Will they win? Will the latest signing make an appearance or forever sit on the bench warming it up for the chosen 11? Will there be a goal to end the drought of the last few weeks? Sorrowful shakes of knowledgeable heads worry at the prospect of a nil-nil draw. The worst result known to fan-kind.

Fans arrive, decked in colours, all warm and cosy with their gloves pulled up and woolly hats dusted down from being in cupboards during the warmer months.

Pies are heated to warm the masses during the game as the smell of chips, hot dogs and pizzas fill the air. A nod to the hot chocolate machine is made but still the brave few sup on their ice-cold juice as if there had been a heat wave. Gloved hands are blown into as slow-moving lines head towards the creaky turnstiles. The looming stands tower above as precious season tickets are placed onto modern new-fangled machines. Bleep, it replies. Come on in.

Seats await their owners as they have done for the past twenty, thirty, forty years or so. Small buttock-shaped dents in plastic thrones for resting loyal limbs.

The hum of excited banter fills the air and hangs above the pitch in great expectations. As familiar music begins to play, a crescendo of noise lifts the roof off and into the sky above. The low sun warms the faces of those in the East Stand as proud tears fall down well-worn faces, as the words of Hector Nicol and The Proclaimers ring in our ears.

Players are decked in their finest waiting for the go-ahead to enter the stadium. Starch shorts and well-pressed tops salute the name of their club. Proud hearts beat underneath the material. This is their home, their bread and butter. They must do their best or go home. Gone are the days of cleaning boots with muck-filled toothbrushes and watching from the side-lines, waiting for the knowing glance from the boss that he’s happy with you now. It’s the chance to shine, to convince the stalwarts that there is life in the old dog yet. To have a little faith.

A line of green and white shoulders warm up on the spot. The cheeky mascot grins as a small hand is lost in the goalies humongous gloves, hidden forever in a sea of white leather. A look of adoration travels up to the giant’s face and a sly wink from the towering force ensures another wish has been granted.

Superstitious taps on the ceiling as feet propel forward. A chance to remember all those that have gone before them. Hard-working men who fought in wars and lived to tell the tale on a Saturday afternoon in their home from home. Men who lived and breathed the club. Playing for the jersey not the money.

The roar of the crowd bounces of chests and sends goosebumps down spines. Adrenaline runs high as nervous waves engulf fidgety legs. This is it. The time has come. Kick off is imminent.

At last, a chance to showboat, to confirm dedication to the badge and to add a bit of flair to keep the fans coming back in their droves. Ready for that illusive catch, the goalies gloves are taped tight, hoping to make a save that will clinch those much-needed points. Clean sheet is repeated over and over in his mind.

The soft crunch of studs on grass confirms the start of it all. Photos are taken, hands are shaken in respect, silences are observed, coins are tossed and well-rehearsed positions are taken up. Captain’s armbands are fixed in place and vows are taken to excel, to conquer. A hush comes over the crowd as the referee brings the silver whistle to his lips.

And breathe.

Let the game begin.