I give in. As a child I LOVED football. I wasn’t allowed to play at primary school because I was a girl. My mum talked to the principal and was then allowed to train with the boys, but Jo play matches. I got teased a lot and felt like a total outcast so stopped going. I always tried to talk to my Dad about football but he didn’t really ever respond, but would talk to my brothers about it all the time, so assume it’s because I was a girl too. I went to Highbury (Arsenal stadium) twice in consecutive summer holidays when we visited England. My biggest brother took me. The first time, against Celtic, was THE most amazing experience. On the way there a Celtic fan on the tube gave me a pound cause he said I looked really sweet in my kit.I’ve always had a soft spot for Celtic ever since, so his bribery worked. Haha. I remember standing on the terraces watching all these big men shouting, cheering, swearing – I couldn’t stop laughing at them but was so hooked. The passion, the intensity, the sense of belonging. I see little kids like that at the games now – tho a little different high up on our padded seats at the Emirates. My proudest project at primary school was on David Seaman (our, and the England goalkeeper) when my brother showed me how to draw a 3D goal to write in… I remember being devastated when I joined Twitter and followed him, my childhood hero, to find not pearls of wisdom, words of strength, but complaints about BT broadband. Though, to be fair, they SUCK.
When I look back to my teens my first instinct is to think I didn’t care about football – but my diary is littered with results. I also have shirts spanning the seasons. At boarding school I also was allowed to watch important games – because I was a girl. For once – it went in my favour. My housemaster was an ex punk who generally hated privileged private school kids so seemed to have a soft spot for me.
Being a girl into football I would be bombarded with ‘explain the offside rule’ (very simple) and really obscure trivia questions – so I just learnt to keep my mouth shut and watch the game. I didn’t care about facts and stats. I just liked football and watching Arsenal.
In my mid 20s my dad got a season ticket with my brother but whenever there was a spare my then boyfriend would go. Looking back deep down I was hurt but I just kinda accepted it and didn’t watch or follow football religiously but just always knew what was going on.
Then, something changed. I went to a game with my biggest brother, and got THAT feeling again, like I did as a child at my first game. I was utterly hooked. Then whenever my brother or dad couldn’t go I went instead. When I came home just buzzing from my first (this time round) game I remember my then bf saying ‘haha, don’t think I’ll be going again then.’ He was a QPR fan anyway.
It was wonderful. A whole new world opened up to me. I went to as many games as I could – went to the pub to watch all the away games. And without realising it – my new passion involved beer. ALL the time. Pre match – mid match – post match. Beer beer beer. Towards the end of my relationship it was the perfect escape. Beer, football, and football friends that weren’t in my real (!?) life. Then when we split, perfect escapism for the same reason. Beer football mates. The fucking best. I would sit in bars alone making friends abroad watching the game. And it wasn’t just drinking watching the game. It was getting up early on a Monday morning to make a poster to stick on someone’s computer laughing at their loss.. The only time I (or most decent people!) would actively laugh and push when someone is obviously upset about something… When I moved jobs and no one was into football I missed NOT being laughed at in the morning when we’d lost. Man there is so much I could write – so many good memories, so many painful memories, but ahhh football. Arsenal. Always worth it. Getting up at 4am from a friends wedding to drive 6 hours to watch us (lose) in a cup final at Wembley. Just football. No human rights violations, trafficking, people dying, personal issues – just football, banter, tribalism (!) but so much fun.
Then when I started to moderate drinking something changed. Obviously I loved football so of course I could go to a game and not drink. And of course, that rarely worked. Then when I gave up, I still went, but it was hard. And I put it down to everything else – too tired, too much else going on, no loyalty from the players – just didn’t like it so much. But I’d still check scores – jump up when I saw we’d won.. The love was still there..
So why, do I keep almost breaking down when I have to go a game. Today, I finally accepted it. It’s a trigger. A HUGE fucking trigger. Before most weekend games I now drink NA beer. No, down a few bottles because I’m such a mess. I woke up at 4am feeling angry about HAVING to go today. I looked at schedules for the next few games and got mad about how I didn’t want to go and it’s not a priority and how I have to and I can’t let my dad down and oh god oh god FUCK FUCK FUCK
And I cried before the game. I drank NA beer. I punched the wall with my boxing gloves, and ultimately felt like an awful awful daughter for no longer wanting to go to football with my Dad. My wonderful Dad. It became our thing. I loved it being our thing.
But I blurted out to my brother ‘it’s just so hard, I just want to drink.’ And something clicked. No matter how much I try and ignore it, or try to rationalise it – beer and football go hand in hand for me and going to the games is just rubbing it in my face that I can’t do what I used to. Football, at the Worst points of my life, was my saviour. And beer. Escapism from my ex, from heartache, from the lies, from my life. It was my super happy place. And i can’t have that anymore. And it’s too much. It triggers a NEED to drink. My dad earlier said ‘you can leave early, it’s okay’ (I would never leave early! Even when we’ve been 6-0 down!) and I said ‘I can’t.’ Genuinely too scared I would go to a pub, or hurt myself. But then I realised, I needed to leave. To get out in the cold cold air, and think. Write this. Accept it.
It may seem so stupid, but it was a huge part of my life. And even for the last year or so when I palm off comments ‘oh I haven’t been following..’ I end up getting caught in massive discussions. I get introduced as an Arsenal fab all the time in every aspect of my life. I feel so out of control with it.
But I will talk to my dad. I need to step away. I can’t do this anymore. I blame football for so much, but I don’t want to hate it. I just need a break. Crying IN the stadium. In my seat. Not even watching the match because I just need to keep myself on lockdown. If I got involved in the game – I’d probably have lost it.
I think after all this time being sober I should have it figured out. But I fight so much. Use so much energy being present, positive… Sometimes it’s too much. Christmas has been so so so hard. In some ways harder than last year. And then today, a day two years ago I would have been SO excited for – to be like this?! Tears?! Urgh.
I feel like I’m mourning a relationship. Need to tell people we’re on a break. But I don’t. Just my dad. I feel so guilty and he must be so confused. I forget my occasional ‘oh I haven’t been following it recently’ will not translate to him as I think… (Which is all he above…)
If you got to the end of this. Well done! Haha. But for me, writing this all out, has brought me peace today I did not think I would find.
I sat outside the stadium for a while. By the plaque I bought my dad for his 70th – kinda crying and laughing. Smiling at the noises from the stadium. Life is so crazy. Oh god, that’s started triggering existential thoughts. I can’t deal with any more of those today. I’m gonna go see my niece and nephew. X