After last week’s freak heatwave, I looked out from the South Stand on Saturday at the slate grey sky with the floodlights glowing. Down below Simon Heslop received a pass, a feint shadow was caste on the pitch. My heart warmed.
We are the people of the gloaming. As the summer departs most recede to their houses, their weekends defined by X Factor and Strictly. We, on the other hand, appear blinking into the gloom; our weekends have purpose and focus.
Saturday’s 3-0 win over Bristol Rovers was English football at its very best.
It didn’t need to be like that, of course, neither side could boast particularly stellar form – us at home or them away. It was no local derby, no make or break. Ticket prices weren’t slashed, like the day’s other big League 2 crowd at Bradford. On paper, it was just another lower league fixture. But, with good marketing by both clubs we got a sizable crowd and atmosphere that was a reminder of football’s good old days.
The surprise isn’t so much the size of the crowd, more that it doesn’t happen more often.
On the way in, Radio Five were in discussion with Joey Barton. As is so often the case with media-hate figures, Barton came over as articulate and thoughtful. He recognised that elite sportsmen, footballers in particular, are oddballs. They have to be, they spend their lives eating grilled chicken and pasta, they do their job with 50,000 people screaming bile at them and sports science means they have reached a point of physical fitness that makes them more machines than men. They have mind-boggling salaries, preposterously big houses and pneumatic wives. Barton recognises how bizarre this is, not to excuse his behaviour, but helps to explain it. If he wanted to play sport for sport, he’d have taken up rugby league, he said.
And yet, Premier League players are considered the definition of perfection – good looking, rich, skilful. But they are odd, as in, not typical.
On Friday, I turned over to see that England had qualified for Euro 2012. England games are now relegated to Friday nights, when QI, Outnumbered and Would I Lie To You are all perfectly adequate viewing alternatives. England had just conceded a two-goal lead against a micro-nation, but were slapping each other on the back stony faced, as a job well done. Although live on Sky the game had no coverage on terrestrial TV. You have to wonder, who were they doing it for, and who really cared?
The oddballs of the Premier League are achieving things I can’t bring myself to care about. It is increasingly pointless and joyless. I can’t have heroes who are over-evolved freaks, I want them to be flawed, I want them to take the tube once in a while and have mortgages.
It helps when you’re successful, well, competitive at least. It is easier to drag yourself to a game when there’s the prospect of a win. Ultimate Support Saturday helped sustain the momentum that has been provided by a good start to the season, but, it wasn’t just the result; if we’d lost or drawn it would still have been worthwhile.