This weekend, I have been mostly reading My Favourite Year, [Amazon] edited by Nick Hornby and described as “a collection of football writing”, in which several (or more) authors describe their favourite season of their favourite club, together with appropriate commentary, anecdotes and references to their own life at the time. It’s more interesting than it sounds, really.
But it was while I was reading Chris Pierson’s account of St. Albans City’s “Golden Year” of 1971/2 that I suddenly saw documented for the first time ever, the reason why I and many millions of others play social football, week in, week out, come rain or shine.
Across the globe, we are told, at any one moment just so many people are being born, or dying, or procreating or staring down the barrel of a gun.
I like to think that at any one moment somewhere in the world one of football’s ordinary punters is scoring an extraordinary goal. It has happened to everyone who has played the game. On some (perhaps) lone occasion you have sent the ball thundering past the helpless keeper from 25 yards, or else you have met the ball with head (eyes closed, of course) and sent it like a bullet into the top corner of the net.
Not every sport can offer such a thrill. However often you go to your municipal swimming baths you will not chance upon someone establishing a new world record. Yet, by the law of averages, every Sunday, some bepaunched and breathless punter from publand will strike home the ball in a way that the peerless Pelé or the mighty Bobby Charlton could not have bettered.
It can happen anywhere and, if you wait long enough, will happen almost everywhere. This is the beauty of football: a little bit of the sublime, rather more of the ridiculous and quite a lot of everything in between.
He’s summed it up perfectly there (and he also educated me on the bewilderingly complicated non-league pyramid nestling beneath the household names we know and love from watching TV each weekend). It’s not just for the camaraderie, the friendship, the illusions of fitness – although they’re all great. It’s for those moments when you’re as good as – no, you’re better than – the big names with their big bucks and big cars. It doesn’t happen every week, it wouldn’t be special if it did. Often, it doesn’t even happen every season. But when those elements come together in a perfect storm of footballing coincidence, just for a second, magic happens.
Those who play, will understand. You others have much to learn.