The Football Supporter’s Guide To The Close-Season

Does the thought of more than a week without football fill you with dread?

Do you get withdrawal symptoms the day after the season ends, even though your team have been relegated for the third consecutive year, lost their star players and can’t even afford any tea bags, let alone new strikers?

Then you, my friend, in case you didn’t know, are an addict. You are in need of guidance during those fretful, restless weeks from mid-May to mid-August. That’s assuming, of course, that there is no World Cup, Euro competition or even a meaningless tournament in an obscure part of the world to take your mind off things.

This guide is here to show you how you can still enjoy the summer break. It tells you how you can use this time to reflect, learn from past mistakes and recharge your batteries. Spend this time fruitfully. With this guide, you can emerge successfully from the close-season, prepared anew for the nine months of torture that your club are about to put you through.

New Songs

Of course, we all know that the best terrace chants are spontaneous, and often refer to an incident in a particular game. Or, they may stem from the last time your team met these particular opponents. However, there is advantage to be had in a certain amount of preparation. You could be the envy of all your mates as you amaze them with your quick wit. Firstly, you have to learn off-by-heart all the latest chart hits. Once you have mastered the tunes, you need to join all the football groups on Facebook, and have your TV permanently tuned to Sky Sports News. You will then be readily informed on the latest gossip concerning what your least favourite players from rival teams get up to in the summer break. Then, write new words to the songs. You will surprise everyone next season, including the player concerned, when you sing loudly about his decorating accident to the tune of the latest Boy Band hit. Your mates will be in hysterics when they hear how Arsenal’s newest signing got his big toe stuck in the bath tap, and how that diving so-and-so from Tottenham lay on the pavement for hours after tripping on a loose flagstone because passers by thought he was play-acting.

Spotting the opposition

This can be an amusing pastime. If you happen upon fans of teams that yours screwed over last season, you can strut about, smirk, and tell them you’re sorry they’ve had such a rough time and awful bad luck, and that you’re sure they’ll do better now they’re in the Piddlington Minor League. Knowing that their club are also skint, you can ask politely if they have made any new signings yet. This will leave them spitting, because they can’t knock seven bells out of you when you’re being so nice, can they? Fans of teams like this are easy to find – sitting alone, staring dejectedly into a half-finished pint, in the furthest, darkest, corner of their town’s Wetherspoon’s.

For fans of teams who screwed yours, actively searching them out is probably not such a good idea. Should you accidentally encounter supporters of teams you consider a bunch of arrogant tossers, make a point of ignoring them. Look through them as if they’re not there. This will leave them spitting because they can’t abide being ignored. If you are spotted by fans of a particular club from the North of England who want to engage in conversation, ask them what it is like to live in Cornwall/Japan/Korea. Also (and for any other team which plays in red) remark on the supporter’s wife’s pink sun dress, and say it’s a shame that the merchandise from their club-shop has faded as much as their team. Then scarper.

Laughing at other team’s new replica shirts

This activity can be a hoot. Fans who buy replica shirts will usually pre-order to receive on official release day, so that they can wear them all summer, and be the latest in footy haute-couture. It matters not how awful the style is, nor whether it has zips, chains or whips incorporated into its design. Some people will still happily pay £60 a throw. I use the word throw quite deliberately. We all know that there will be at least one moment during the coming season when the actions or words of the team/manager/ref/opposition will cause us to throw said shirt on to the ground in disgust. Or perhaps, occasionally, it’ll be thrown in celebration.

Wearers of the latest replica shirts can be found in abundance along the coastal catwalks (promenades) of Britain’s resorts. Inevitably, the styles and designs of top club’s shirts will filter down to the lower leagues. This can cause great mirth if you keep your eyes peeled. For example, a goalie shirt incorporating a famous bridge into the background may be seen as inventive, even artistic, at a stretch. But can you say the same for an outline of the old gas-works in Upper Bloggsville? Especially when worn by Upper Bloggsville’s greatest fan, Mrs Shirley Higginbottom?

Look also at the names and numbers on the backs of the replica shirts. Fans of lower league clubs will fail to understand what you find so funny about names like Wally, Pratt and Bogg as you and your mates proudly show off the names of your latest signings, Giovanni Wotaninni and Karl Vanker. The more they ask you what’s so funny, the more you will all laugh. This will leave them spitting. Of course, if you spot a six-foot-six geezer with a neck the width of your own thigh, displaying ‘Hardballs 69’ on the back of his shirt, it is safest not to laugh. It might be his own name. Don’t even ask about the number.

Another note of caution about shirts: If your own team haven’t yet brought out their new kit, tread warily. You could be laughing at Allmouth Town’s brown, grey-and-purple get-up one day, and the following morning find that your team have produced a shirt of fuchsia-and-silver with orange hearts, sponsored by a well known brand of panty-liners.

Be the first to know the transfer gossip

To be ahead of your mates in the transfer gossip, you need to ignore all the most obvious moves being discussed. Use social media cleverly, by following as many lesser-known footballers you can on Twitter. Read their every remark, because behind that seemingly innocuous tweet about buying their wife a new car is a transfer story waiting to break. Ted Twobob doesn’t get paid that much at Cruddbourne FC. Clearly he’s going places if his wife has a new BMW. Check their photographs on Instagram. That 21-year old Brazilian, who you’ve heard is the new Jamie Vardy, may not be sunbathing at the Copa Cabana beach after all. Look at the photograph’s background. Might it resemble Redcar? You will be the first to guess he’s moving to Middlesborough. Your friends will be spitting because you knew it before them.

Pre-season friendlies

Club tours are organised with great precision nowadays, some way in advance. It is important therefore, if you intend to follow your team by drinking your way around the world/UK/Upper Boggington, to book your summer break early. Try and be evasive when your non-football supporting boss finds it hard to understand, in December, why you pre-announce your intentions to visit Solihull in the last week of June.

Pre-season games may be treated as a bit of a laugh by you and your mates, but it isn’t the same for everyone. These matches are often designed to give smaller clubs a chance of extra revenue, and the experience of playing a larger club. So if your mighty men are away at Thornside Wanderers from the Tampons R Us League, don’t expect a friendly welcome. Facing your team’s reserves is the biggest game in their club’s history and they will take it seriously. Their fans think you’re a bunch of pampered higher league wankers. Those un-flushed bogs, half-defrosted grease-burgers, mugs of dishwater tea – and the bollock-kicking defenders – have been saved up for your visit. They are out to prove that they are the toughest, bravest, dirtiest team in the district. Ditto their fans. Please don’t attempt to prove them wrong, as it is probably true. Instead, listen to their views about the grass roots of football. Nod and smile admiringly at their tales of away match exploits at Dullville Town. If it all gets too much for you, ask them what they think about the latest news that Roman Abramovich’s cousin has bought Woolerton United, their local rivals. Let their jaws drop whilst you talk disparagingly about too much money in the game. As they’re all so hard, they won’t be able to show how gutted they are. This will leave them spitting.

Resolve to abandon all silly superstitions

Well come on, hopping backwards out your front door with one hand in a trouser pocket and the other on your nether regions didn’t do a lot for your team’s form, did it? Nor your reputation amongst the neighbours. And remember the office dispute about the stench from your socks in May? It’s time to take off your cat’s flea-collar/Local Vicar’s Dog-Collar, and stop being so ridiculous. You know realistically that none of these things have any effect whatsoever on your team’s performance. It doesn’t matter whether you run around Tesco naked, save for your club scarf, arrive at the ground on one roller-skate, or wear a Gary Lineker mask. If your team are going to lose, they’re going to lose. Nakedness and roller skates are one thing, but you don’t have to embarrass yourself by wearing a Gary Lineker mask. Now we’ve got that straight, perhaps you could also resolve not to spend quite so much money on club merchandise. If you fail to buy those dart flights, it doesn’t mean your club can’t afford Mario Moneygrabber from Serie C. Take a look at your purchases from last season. Just how many club-branded beach-mats can you actually use? Make a pact with yourself to stick to basic leisurewear and the occasional flag. However, just because you are cutting back yourself, it doesn’t mean that you can’t spend some time in the close-season inventing new merchandise. You will be the envy of your mates when you receive a nice letter and gift voucher from the merchandising department, in thanks for your wonderful ideas. Because of your creative genius, your club will now be stocking club-crested cheese graters and ironing-board covers. Your mates will wish they’d though of it first, and they will be spitting.

Prepare for future away cup ties

Your team may be drawn against little-known clubs in the FA Cup next season. On-line guides to league grounds are simply not enough to see you through the coming months. The best way to find out about non-league grounds is to familiarise yourself with the websites of as many as possible. When, in January, your team is drawn out of the hat for an away tie at Husband’s Bosworth United, you will impress your mates by immediately telling them the name of the ground, admission price, and capacity. However, don’t rely too much on the accuracy of the information received. A close inspection of Muesli Town’s website – listing their prices as ‘£5 for adults, £1 for juveniles’ – will also say ‘Last updated September 2003’. Follow their site’s directions to the stadium, and you’ll find that it’s been a housing estate for a decade and the club have moved to a brand-new stadium twenty-five miles up the motorway next to Ikea. Far from being impressed, this could leave your mates spitting.

Learn a language

If your team are lucky enough to be playing in Europe next season, just going to the away tie is not sufficient to impress your mates. Anyone earning a fortune or borrowing money on a credit card can go abroad with their team. It’s old hat. You, however, could use the close-season to learn some new languages. After all, what fun is it to shout rude things at the opposition/ref/local louts when they can’t appreciate your wit? You may as well be singing ‘Barcelona, Barcelona, you’re a silly load of twits’ or ‘Referee, referee, you’re a really naughty man’. Anyway, given the number of overseas players in the leagues these days, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a spot of, say, colloquial French. Your team’s local defender may not have a clue what Percy le Pratt said to him after that tackle, but you can impress your mates by lip-reading, and then contacting the FA so they can review the incident and get le Pratt suspended.

Of course, if your team’s only foreigner is Petar Pavlov whose granny was a Slovakian body-builder, and your lot have as much chance of ever playing in Europe as Dodsworth Marsh Rovers, you may find that learning other English dialects is more appropriate. For example, a big part of Geordie pride is based on the fact that no-one else can understand them. When you play away on Tyneside, imagine the effect when you can respond appropriately to their delightful humour? It will leave them spitting.

Write a book

Everyone is writing footy books nowadays. It doesn’t matter if you’re semi-literate, totally unimaginative, or boring. If you are all three of these things, so much the better. You can write about last season’s adventures from the perspective of the die-hard fan. Publishers just can’t get enough of fan memoirs – especially if you have previous convictions for GBH but are now head of quality control for a pepper-spray manufacturing company. All you need to do is write down everything that happened last season, including the incident at Elland Road with the Yorkshire Curd Tart. It may not have seemed that important at the time, but fans everywhere will be able to identify with it. This is the sort of thing they want to read. They don’t want to know about corporate hospitality or prats who can’t tell a free kick from a free match ticket. They want to get in touch with the nitty-gritty, the good old fashioned mooning of arses out of supporters’ coach windows. They want to know about the hilarious songs sung to the opposition fans like We can see you sneaking out. They want to know about your mate Dave and the women of Grimley Vale. You are what they want to read about. Mark my words, you’ll be signing copies in Waterstone’s before the end of next season. You will get to meet all your team’s stars and be the envy of your mates. They will wish they had thought of this idea first and it will leave them spitting.

So there you have it! Just a few little tips to get you through the long, boring days when you are desperate for the company of the obese, whinging geezer who breathes curry fumes all over you in the stand, and missing the online virtual waiting room when trying to buy away tickets. Wasn’t it all such a laugh, watching Barry Brimstone, your local idiot, get arrested in that Northern town, and how comradely that you all had to club together for the fine. Well, there’s no need to get too nostalgic, because by the time you have read this, the new season will be upon you. It might seem a long stretch without the beautiful game, but these days, one season slips into another without anyone noticing. In fact, there is hardly a close-season any more.

© Carol Ann Wood
June 2016

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