Existentialism and cheap Nike sportswear, a discussion

Saturday’s draw with Rochdale may have been frustrating, but our toil paled into insignificance against the personal battle going on in my head about my mortality. Mortality and official club merchandise.

On Friday I was driving to work and saw a blonde woman walking her dog. From the back she reminded me of someone I know, so I glanced around to see her face. She was probably 20 years older than she looked from behind. It was about 8.45 and she was walking her dog in the sunshine, presumably she wasn’t going to work. I thought what a nice day she had ahead of her and that she was probably very happy with her life.

Then I thought; she was in mid-forties, she looked very respectable. But 20 years ago – not that long ago – she might have been a raver, she may listen to original Seattle grunge. She is no longer young, but once she was. Perhaps she wasn’t so happy about that. It dawned on me that I’ve always subconsciously thought of myself as a young person who has caught up with people who were always adults. As a result, I’ve always thought other people were comfortable with their adulthood. But it dawned on me that all adults are, like me, just grown up children.

Earlier this week I sat in a coffee shop and three girls, probably about 16-18, came and sat at the table next to me. To me, they’re young people in touch with popular culture. And so am I. To them, I am a middle aged man, and, should I try to engage with anything approaching peer-to-peer discussion, they would think me a bit creepy.

On Saturday I parked at the top car park in order to peruse, and perhaps buy, a new home shirt. Every season I buy myself a new shirt, I’m a completist so I want a full collection. It goes back to my university days, at university you’re expected to be an individual, but you’re actually subservient to a student cliche; the home shirt was a way of representing your home town. Last year, the large shirt was self-consciously clingy on me, I bought a XL, it was a blow, even though it was too big. The joy of buying a shirt became a reminder of my slow drift to middle-age. 

The ritual has become tiring, I’m lucky enough to be able to afford a new shirt each season nowadays. Its not a treat like it was, its a routine. Moreover, I don’t actually like this season’s new shirt, it’s too similar to last year and the sponsor is decidedly naff. I looked at it close-up and saw little mistakes in the stitching, convincing myself that it was badly made. But really I was wrestling with a dilemma; have I become too old to buy a home shirt?  

I chewed over this for the whole game. New shirts eventually become classic old shirts; they often need time to mature; the 2010 promotion shirt is already a classic, even the maligned 2011 shirt is becoming a cult classic – a subversive message. So perhaps I should buy one; it’ll complete the collection and in 10 years time it’ll be kind of cool and obscure.

But I don’t like it; generally speaking a big block of yellow doesn’t work on an expanding girth, you shine like a beacon. Perhaps I could try the away shirt; which is much nicer, but it’ll be breaking the sequence. There’s something very knowing about an away shirt. A very secret language we share with fans of other Football League clubs; when you see a Football League away shirt in Tesco, you’re communicating that you’re part of the counterculture. The further away from home you see the shirt (I once saw that fuzzy red away shirt from the 90s being worn in a obscure village in Devon) the more underground you are.

But, is the problem that its a football shirt? Perhaps I’m just too old to be assimilating myself to those on the pitch. I’m only four years younger than Chris Wilder, a couple of years older than Kelvin Thomas. Perhaps my style should be more suited to the back room team. But the range of training merchandise is generic Nike gear you’d find in Sports Direct, its just got an Oxford badge on it. I quite like the tracksuit top, but it would benefit from a touch of yellow to make it ours, the Thermafit hoody, I like, and it’s practical for later in the season. But when does ‘classic’ simply become dull?

Perhaps I should go with something more subtle and stylish. A couple of years ago I saw Dr Neil Wilson at a game against Wimbledon. Dr Wilson is a pioneering children’s heart surgeon; the first surgeon to successfully do an open heart operation on a child under the age of 10. He’s a world expert, talks with a plumby accent and wears a bow tie by day. And there he was, buying a beer in the South Stand Upper with a classic yellow and navy bar scarf. He looked like a man who had got life in perspective whilst not losing his affinity to the club. 

At the other end of the spectrum, but no less perfect, there’s a bloke who I see around the Kassam occasionally, he’s probably in his 50s. He wears immaculate Dr Martens, jeans with turn-ups, braces and, in a subtle nod to the club, a yellow and blue checked shirt. He is totally in the skinhead tradition. Its a great look, he doesn’t let cheap sportswear spoil it, but nor does he lose his link to the club. Perhaps this is the way forward, a more subtle glance towards the club, whilst communicating that I am a multi-dimensional fully grown adult.
I’m still undecided, leave my youth behind and give up on the shirts, buy dull sportswear more in keeping with my age, or go for something else completely different? This occupies my thoughts more than our inability to keep a clean sheet at the moment.

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