WHEN it comes to sport, it’s usually what happens off the field that stays with you.
The games themselves are often dull, unremarkable affairs, with the real action taking place in the build up and afterwards.
As a kid I loved going to watch my father play football or cricket and can remember him scoring for Cross Hills from the half-way line in a 6-2 victory against Earby. It was clearly meant as a cross but the wind took it in.
More memorable to me however was the anticipation of going to the match, watching Football Focus on TV and knowing there were only two hours to go until kick-off, seeing the players arrive, listening to results come in from ‘real’ football on the radio and relaying them to the players on the pitch, then going to the pub with them afterwards.
It’s the same with ‘real’ sport. My friend’s dad was a football league linesman, who largely operated in the north west and north east, but occasionally got to officiate in European matches. One particular Saturday his game was Liverpool v Stoke at Anfield and I was asked along.
I remember little of the 1-0 victory for Liverpool, but I do remember hanging about outside the players’ entrance and being invited in by a man on the door. We were shown the trophy room. It was big. It had to be. We were given cups of tea while we waited for Mark’s father to emerge after the match and players such as Graeme Souness, Craig Johnston and Terry McDermott chatted with us and signed autographs.
That early impression stayed with me forever and I always retained a fondness for the club and the city after that and the latter has never let me down.
At the other end of the scale, I was taken along to Hartlepool v Hereford. We were let in through a hole in the fence and shown into the directors’ room where said luminaries were huddled around a three bar fire drinking tea. We were offered similar and given the chance to warm ourselves before a very cold 90 minutes of football kicked off metres away from a desolate marina, in later years to be developed in a similar manner to Liverpool’s docks. Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics was played over the Tannoy and I went to sleep that night having developed a lifelong affection for a club I would undoubtedly otherwise have never given much thought to.
Connecting with young people is something that would serve many clubs well as on-field wealth and the knowledge that your “heroes” will move on when the time is right for them creates a divide between players and fans.
There have obviously been plenty of bad/disappointing experiences too but those first impressions counted for a lot.
An arrogant player at Anfield, a “wait outside son” at freezing cold Hartlepool, my dad’s cross ballooning over the bar and over the wall prompting someone to shout “get that lad, go on, get a bloody move on” and the memories that stayed with me would have been very different.