Blog 54 ...Oi! Ref...!
This Saturday, just passed, the ‘Hubby’ and I had been invited to a football match. It was a special day as our friends, whose son passed away in July, were gathering with his family and his friends to celebrate his birthday. He was an avid PNE fan: he was the first school pupil to do work experience at the club as a teenager. He would have been at this particular match as part of his birthday celebrations; so it was quite apt that in memory of him his sister, my God-daughter, organised this along with her cousins. As is a tradition the club published his story in the programme and arranged to display his photograph on the large TV screens around the football grounds. As a gesture of good will the club also organised for a donation to a local Cancer Charity in his honour. The whole idea and experience was a wonderful memento for us all.
It was a strange sort of start to the afternoon really in that we met up at the local pub for a few drinks first just like a thousand times before and everyone was laughing and chatting and standing with some form of football attire…yes even me! I was wearing one of the ‘Hubby’s’ football shirts over a jumper and a scarf! Then without a bell or whistle to signal the time, a sea of blue and white ‘uniformed’ people gradually progressed from the pub along the main road to the football ground: talking animatedly about the forthcoming match.
This was how, many years ago, I used spend Saturdays when the ‘Hubby’ and I were courting! He never missed a match at home or away and it was a case of if I wanted to spend time with him then I had to go along! I spent many an afternoon freezing cold, standing …yes standing in those days…with my hands in my pockets, oblivious to the male language, stamping my feet and trying to concentrate on other things such as ideas for a lesson, colour of curtains I wanted in the house I was saving up for, kind of car I wanted…all sorts would float through my mind and from time to time I’d cup my hands at my mouth and shout something…not an obscenity in case any parents or pupils from school were attending…but just something to let the ‘Future Hubby’ think I was enjoying myself. Truth is the only thing I did enjoy was the butter-pie he treated me to and the linking of arms on the walk home so that I wouldn’t get lost!
The away games were actually the worst for me as it meant that I would more than likely need the loo at some point during the match…one time in particular comes to mind when we were at an away game and I had waited until I was desperate and then discovered that there was only one ladies toilet at the grounds and it was on the other side of the pitch. [Ah yes…this was the early 1980’s!]Stupidly I thought the ‘Future Hubby’ was going to escort me when he pointed the directions in mid air…but no…he very quickly returned his gaze to his team who were bound to score any second now…and I was abandoned! Desperately trying not to get in anyone’s view, heaven forbid my little 5’ 2” frame would block the crowd’s view of the goal of the season…I clambered and stumbled through a mass of males along the terrace and onto the staircase whereby I asked the security guard where the loo was. I’m not an aggressive person, so don’t get me wrong when I say that his smirk made me want to push him against the metal post he was leaning on…how rude of him…worse still when I got to the loo I saw just why he smirked! It took me ages to walk around the grounds, underneath the stands that rattled and creaked with the stomping of feet…the echoes of the shouting was spooky and my heart was racing when I emerged from the darkness to see a small sign for Ladies…what did other ladies do during these matches? Anyhow, I quickly click-clacked in my boots along the flagged ground towards a whitewashed shed…not believing that finally I had found the loo and all would be well…er well not exactly…there was no door! What? No door, not even the remnants of a door…no seat…well I wouldn’t have sat on it anyway but that’s not the point…and naturally no paper…dear Lord I’d left my handbag with ‘Future Hubby’! On stumbling across a mass of bricks…I know, what were they doing there?...a scattering of cans…well yes I can understand that…but the writing on the wall and the muck around the toilet; good God what kind of ladies attended this football ground?...I discovered there was no light either, or sink…good job I’m not one for needing a mirror…I was standing in a state of shock…desperate for relief but unable to comprehend how on earth could I even attempt to use this shambles …when I heard the scampering of footsteps…I clenched my teeth, my buttocks and my hands in preparation for the sight of rats. Ah bless…another woman appeared! Her face said it all and we looked at each other in disbelief that this was where we were supposed to ‘go’.
Oh well! United we stand…in a sense that’s exactly what we had to do…she stood guard in the doorway whilst I ‘tinkled’…actually by now it was more of a waterfall…and then I stood guard for her…luckily she was the type of woman who had tissues in her pockets so that was one crisis avoided. We made small talk afterwards…well to be precise we had a laugh: who would have believed the state of the toilets? Who would have believed that two women were desperate at the same time? We also giggled at the fact that neither of us were actually interested in football and so we then had a good natter before realising that we needed to make our way back to our respective partners before the final whistle or we’d be stuck in the crowds. Jokingly arranging to meet at the toilets at the next away match we parted company…a lot happier than when we first met!
This memory fresh in my mind I was worried about the toilet facilities in the football ground on Saturday and I was beginning to think I should have worn trainers instead of my boots as it’s a long time to stand and I’m not as young as I was the last time I was here…in fact the last time I was at the football ground it was a Saturday before a Christmas and the class I was teaching had been invited to sing Christmas carols at the half time…heaven only knows why I thought it would be a great idea to accept! Trying to keep an eye on 30 girls and boys who were excited and ready to explore the grounds was a mammoth task to say the least…but I survived their antics of going to the toilets and being escorted back by security…their arguments with other school children and having to prise them apart without the help of the other teachers…the abuse they shouted at the other team's supporters and I also kept their language in check when they were cross with the referee…though how on earth they knew what they were talking about I don’t know…I hadn’t seen any fouls! But I suppose I should actually say that it was an honour to walk on to the football pitch and stand in a circle to sing with other schools and a lady called Mrs. Nolan…who turned out to be the mother of a famous singing group of the same name…and who was extremely patient with those of us who sang out of tune…!
So, we arrived at the football ground which has undergone extensive work over the years to bring it up to 21st Century standard…and I have to say I was blown away! It was so organised with different levels, different areas for eating and drinking, TOILETS! For the ladies…lots of them complete with paper, soap, mirrors, sinks and hand driers! [Yes I’m easily pleased!] The best bit was that there were seats! Yeay! No standing. Then it hit me…the atmosphere…that strange excitement of being in the open air…brilliant green pitch in front of me and bright blue sky above…so many people talking, shouting, laughing…music playing…somewhere there was a drum played in tune…just like Match of The Day…the smell of hot dogs, onions, chips, butter pies, beer all mingled as they wafted round us! We were all together as a group and one member produced Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls sweets…now this was a tradition at all football matches…simply perfect. Our team appeared, looking all of 12 years of age…good God how old were they? Not a grey hair in sight! We sat down and the game began…incredibly the opposing team were in luminous green football kit and the boots were multi-coloured as opposed to the good old plain black ones…and my mind wandered off into a commentary of my own…
“Here comes no. 10 in his co-ordinating luminous green shirt and boots with shocking pink laces…no.5 approaching and Oh no he’s got mud on his pure white socks…how will no.7 get the stain off those yellow laces…the goalie looks stunning in his red all in one but I think the bright green boots are a mistake…ahh down goes no. 9 will he get the muck out of that hair style in time for the party tonight…the ref is looking fetching in his skin tight mini black shorts and shirt, very nice starched looking brilliant white collar too …the black knee high socks set off his tan nicely…oh and wait for it here comes no.12 oh and he scores…no he misses…and he has thrown himself down…oh dear me just look at those grass stains…”
By half time the ‘Hubby’ was joining in the shouting of “Useless…that’s why I don’t come anymore…” as the other team scored. 1-0, not a good start but the banter was good and the time was passing quickly. Then, as the second half started the sky turned grey and I thought the heavens were about to open…the floodlights came on and it was a magnificent sight to see the ground lit up. The players returned and there seemed to be a change in the atmosphere…the sense of 'this is it…' a new vigour amongst the players…the crowd were roaring and somehow from somewhere I got this rush…
“How many times ref?” I shouted…what? Where did that come from? The man behind me had been shouting it all through the match…and now it was my turn! “Keep it tight…watch that number 21…what are you doing?...get up you softie…oh..ahhh…what? You’re joking ref that’s a booking…!” I was in a world of my own…I was shouting…ooohhing and ahhing…and cursing [politely] leaning over to watch the ‘corner’ and jeering and booing [I know not a good example for the younger generation!] Then they scored….”YES AT LAST!” The crowd went wild…I went wild…the ‘Hubby’ shouted:
“What a team…that’s why I come here!”
The tension increased, the excitement mounted…the roaring and shouting and singing…the stamping of feet and the beating of the drum… I had a ball…I felt a lifting of my spirits…I lost myself in the atmosphere which by now was electric with apprehension…as another goal secured our win.
We had not forgotten why we were there: with each flash of the picture of our friend’s son across the TV screen we stood and clapped and cried…so did other supporters…in a strange sense we felt he was there…his team was scoring right in front of us: our seats were behind the goals and at half time when the teams swapped ends our team was at our end, so we saw every inch of the effort of the players to score. The rain held off and our team scored again! How wonderful was that? The pace of the game was fast now and then the final whistle blew and we had won: 3-2!
I had no voice left but it didn’t matter…what did matter was that as a group of people we had been brought together through sorrow and we were parting feeling slightly elated…it had been a wonderful, unforgettable experience…and as the ‘Hubby’ and I linked arms to walk home we looked up to the sky and smiled…because someone very special had been smiling down on us all that afternoon…Gdi442…his special signature…his special day.