Love Letters From The Stand 

Forthcoming book for the 2016-2017 Season

Preface

One Saturday, late May 2016

I’m mooching around, as one does when the football season has ended. Mr Non Footy has noticed the abrupt change in my behaviour. Namely that I am present and mooching, with no matches go to. Saturdays or Sundays in season usually consist of my absence, followed by my arriving home around 7.30 pm, elated, inebriated, miserable, soaked, cold, or a combination thereof, demanding a glass of wine and dinner.

There is no transfer news of any discernible quality. The fixture list hasn’t yet been announced for next season, so I can’t engage Mr Non Footy in a conversation about a romantic weekend in Hull. Well, I dress this proposal up a bit, you understand. Hull may be officially named as a City Of Culture but it still needs dressing up. Importantly to my Bradford-born husband, it’s in Yorkshire, albeit in the East Riding, so I might mention staying in Brid in due course. (You must say Brid, not Bridlington, apparently.)

As yet, we don’t know that Hull away isn’t on a Tuesday night in February. But it’s sod’s law that it will be. Ditto Bournemouth, although I enjoyed a virgin trip there with Mr Non Footy in April. And let’s face it, there wasn’t much to enjoy about the 2015-16 season as a Chelsea supporter. I spent most of it distraught, baffled and desperate. Most of these emotions were experienced during the course of each game, so bad was our defence of the previous season’s league title. Then there was the whole scenario of José’s second sacking, and as for his recent instalment at Man U, I’m trying not to think about it too much. Which isn’t easy when the media are determined to shove it in your face every five seconds with their José love-in. Funny how they can turn from hate to love so quickly.

‘I know there’s some competition type thing coming soon for you to look forward to, isn’t there?’ asks Mr Non-Footy. He’s eventually realised my eyes are glazing over as he recounts his latest shed reorganisation project. He has come to understand that there is only one sort of shed which holds my attention, and it isn’t in our garden.

‘It’s Euro 2016,’ I say, patiently. He’s only been married to me for nearly 24 years, so he still gets confused about competitions.

‘So, are Chelsea in it, then?’

‘Well, a lot of our players are,’ I explain.

‘But I thought they were out of Europe this season?’

See, it’s pretty hopeless.

Mr Non Footy offers to take me shopping as he knows that it might placate me. We go to a nearby town, and after separating so I can be let loose in New Look, we meet for lunch, as arranged. Walking to the pub, I spot someone with whom I need to engage in conversation.

‘Hold on, I just need to talk to that man over there,’ I say, handing Mr Non-Footy my shopping bag, ‘Won’t be a sec.’

I approach said man.

‘Hi!’ I say brightly, ‘do you remember me from that night four years ago? What a night it was! God, so exciting and, well, it was written in the stars really, wasn’t it. I can hardly put into words what it meant to me. I was shaking so much, and still think about it all time. I bet you do too!’

The man, wearing a Chelsea baseball cap, stares blankly at me, and the woman I have just noticed lurking beside him is giving me thunderous looks. Clearly the man doesn’t remember me from the emotional scenes in Munich when we won the Champions’ League in 2012. He had been standing behind me.

‘You were right behind me,’ I remind him, ‘and you said, ‘take that off now, now, darlin’ – this is the best night of our lives.’

Still a blank stare. Then I realise, to my horror, that I’m not visibly sporting a Chelsea logo. He hasn’t grasped the rather tenuous link to that great game, and his wife has clearly got the wrong end of the stick. I hastily elaborate, as he looks like he’s going to be dragged off by Mrs Angry, him explaining that I must have been recently released into the community from a nearby hospital.

‘Oh!’ the man appears much relieved, ‘Oh, yes, I think I do remember you. The lucky parka, eh.’ He looks like he wants to stop and reminisce, but his wife is sporting a scowl that makes Shirley from Eastenders look meek, so I don’t think I ought to linger. Mr Non Footy is pacing the pavement nearby.

‘Do you know him?’ he asks on my return, in a detached way that suggests he isn’t a bit interested in the answer.

‘Oh yes, and he remembered me eventually,’ I explain, ‘As, you see, he was the man who asked me why I’d put my parka on for the penalty shoot-out in Munich.’

‘And I,’ remarked Mr Non Footy, ‘am the man who asked you why the hell you were taking it with you in the first place when the temperature was 25 degrees celsius.’

‘I told you,’ I say, ‘it made a good pillow on the coach. Well, that’s what I said at the time. But of course, you probably guessed that it was a lucky parka which had already seen me through all the previous Champions’ League games, and the FA cup that we’d won. So it had to come with me.’

There’s a snort of derision from Mr Non-Footy. ‘Didn’t you wear it for most of last season? In which case, it hasn’t given you much luck lately then, has it?’

I am sure I can detect a hint of a smirk around his lips, and I’m not impressed.

‘Well, sometimes you have to change your routines as they don’t work forever,’ I explain.

Another snort. ‘Oh, and what will your routine be next season then? Wearing a kettle on your head to matches? Taking another twenty scarves with you and still finding reason to buy another?’

I don’t really have a good riposte to this, because he knows if I believed wearing a kettle on my head would help Chelsea win a trophy, I’d do it. And he knows my propensity towards buying scarves. Not the half-and-half variety, you understand. ‘Friendship’ scarves are for tourists and day trippers. Not part of my world. Mine are sometimes player scarves, and I also have a pink Chelsea scarf collection that wouldn’t look out of place in a Barbara Cartland museum.

After we arrive home, a neighbour pops round with a parcel for me.

‘Oh, that will be my new shirt!’ I say excitedly, ‘The new home one!’

‘But you’ve got a home shirt, haven’t you?’ Mr Non Footy says. I can’t argue with that. He is the one who retrieves it from the washing machine after matches, and hangs it lovingly on a hanger. Lovingly because it’s mine, not because it’s a Chelsea shirt, you understand.

I’m probably not going to have much luck in explaining how wearing a shirt from last year’s disastrous season is not an option, because he is acutely aware that I have around ten season’s worth of home shirts hanging in the spare room wardrobe. Some of which are from highly successful seasons. I’m not even sure I like this season’s home shirt, to be honest. But it’s just something I buy. Maybe it makes me feel I’m part of the players’ world. Which is clearly a load of bollocks because most players today are about as far removed from the supporters as Sepp Blatter is from critical feminist thinking.

The summer goes on much like this. Me mooching, complaining that I can’t wait till the season starts, and Mr Non Footy pointing out how many times from August to May that I yelled ‘I’ll be so glad when this season is over!’ like a moody teenager. I snipe at Sky Sports and newspaper transfer rumours, making a heavy point about all the youth players that Chelsea have had out on loan.

‘I’ve a good mind to tell our new manager, Antonio Conte, just what the fans are thinking,’ I say, huffily. ‘He has to be the one to change this policy, it’s got way too out of hand. And I’ve a good mind to tell the board what the fans feel about a lot of things. And some of those players who went missing in action last season, they need to know just how much they have to improve this time around.’

Mr Non Footy looks at me for a minute, and then says: ‘So, do it.’

‘Eh? Do what?’ My attention has been diverted towards the breaking news bit at the bottom of the Sky Sports screen, in case I miss anything interesting. Accrington Stanley have been linked with someone called Si U. Sounds vaguely Chinese, which is indicative of how the modern game is shaping up. The game is growing in stature in China and wealthy Chinese people aspire to be Premier League club owners. Although I suppose Si U could be Glaswegian.

‘What you just said,’ Mr Non Footy answers.

‘Write to the club, to the whole lot of them. Tell them, not me, I can’t fix anything.’

‘I was joking,’ I sigh. ‘The club doesn’t even listen to the people in the supporters group half the time. It’s not the same club I supported when I was nine, like when I wrote to Peter Bonetti’s mother and she wrote back. They won’t listen to me.’

‘No, maybe not’ Mr Non Footy says, ‘But you should still do it. Tell the board, the manager, the players. You could even write to the match officials and the TV pundits you spend so much time moaning about. And what about the FA? You’re always saying they’re unfair with their sanctions. And if they don’t get to read the letters, the other supporters might appreciate them. It could even become a book.’

And so it began.


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