This feature is a part of Hot Bovril and Cold Terraces, a series looking at first-hand memories of football before the flash.
I love football. I always have and I always will – it has given me so many moments of joy and excitement. I cannot remember a time when football wasn’t an integral part of me. My mum trots out the old adage, “You came into the world kicking and you have never stopped.”
My birthday cards continue to arrive emblazoned with footballers on as if I was still that nine-year-old boy watching the FA Cup final with a ball resting on my knee. I am happy to engage in discussion on the beautiful game for hours with anyone who cares to listen, flitting from one topic to another without pausing for breath. There is no element I am not prepared to talk about, but eventually the tricky question always comes up: “So who do you support?”
In short, no one.
Growing up in the late 1970s, my formative footballing years were self-directed. There was no paternal influence who loved the game and instilled a tribal allegiance to a team, like some of my friends had. There wasn’t even anyone in my family who liked the game – my love of football made me persona non grata amongst my immediate family when it came to the tri-channel television schedule.
Original Series | Hot Bovril and Cold Terraces
Being the youngest and the only male, I was easily outmanoeuvred on the rare occasion that football was actually broadcast. My football fix was found on my primary school’s football pitch, which backed on to our house. Playing with a large cohort of friends, I found a like-minded posse and indulged in the beautiful game day after day, either by playing or just chatting.
My formative footballing years coincided with the greatest period of European dominance by a single nation: between 1977 and 1984, England provided seven European Cup-winning teams. It is in this era that the term ‘glory supporter’ came to the fore. Many of my friends were originally Liverpool supporters, and then the number of Nottingham Forest supporters seemed to swell within our ranks. For a brief period, I played the game on a regular basis with Aston Villa fans, before Liverpool fans returned in numbers to our pitch.
I can understand my fellow football novices fluctuating from one team to another; we all lived in a nondescript seaside town, 50 miles from the nearest professional club. Maybe supporting a team is easier if you live in a town or city that has one. The players, the ground, the colours permeate the community people live in. However, if your place of domicile has no club and there is no ancestral tradition passed down, supporting a team that frequented the sporadic television coverage or habitually appeared on the back pages of the newspapers seemed an obvious choice.
It wasn’t like I didn’t try. After numerous half-hearted attempts at supporting Arsenal, I had to admit defeat. I just couldn’t commit to one team, like a child who peruses the sweets counter; there was always a new addition to the counter or a rebranding that looked too tempting. Yes, Arsenal were regular cup finalists and were screened live into my lounge more than most teams, but to me there were always better, more successful teams to watch. I could always pick a side I wanted to win a game. I could quite happily support any English or Scottish side playing in Europe.
I cannot tell you it was a moment of epiphany; it was more a hasty realisation. I didn’t and could never support a team. I supported the player as I wasn’t seduced by a sense of belonging to an institution. I was seduced by talent, by players who made me want to watch the game or inspired me to be a better player for my school team. I supported the individual.
Read | The golden memory of watching Johan Cruyff play football
Having come to terms with this revelation, I set about trying to explain it to friends who just shrugged their shoulders and responded with: “It sounds like you are a glory supporter to me.” I was, however, finally comfortable that I didn’t have to force an erroneous allegiance. I could just simply bask in the outrageous talent the world had to offer in my formative years. I supported the playmakers.
The rest of my childhood was spent willing players such as Glenn Hoddle, Zico, Diego Maradona, Michel Platini and Kenny Dalglish to produce outrageous moments I could talk about in the playground the next day. I was free to appreciate talent amongst any of the 22 players on the pitch. New players could and would catch my eye and be stored away in the memory bank until the next time they appeared on the screen.
My idolising of players over teams has never left me. I admit I have never experienced the outrageous highs that some of my friends have, who pledged their allegiance to a club, nor have I suffered the debilitating lows which also comes from being a diehard supporter. But what I have experienced is an unbiased lifetime of appreciation for the game’s all-time greats. There has never been an instance of resentment or bitterness – just countless moments of awestruck admiration for players who have shaped the game of football.
My ability to watch the game without the restriction of parochial or nationalistic blinkers has allowed me to embrace the football in all its glory. I have been able to appreciate prodigious talent even when it comes at the expense of my own country’s progression. I don’t belong to a team or an institution … I feel the game belongs to me, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
By Stuart Horsfield @loxleymisty44