Reading reports of the England match last night, the England fans seemed none too happy. Blame is being placed on the number of foreign players in England; not sure how that logic would explain the complete failure of the England team in the 1970s when the only foreign players came from north of the border or from across the Irish Sea.
Football was never about winning, anyway, it was about the experience. If it was about winning, then how would anyone explain crowds of over 20,000 for at least the top dozen teams in the Championship – which is the second division, and where the only thing anyone wins is promotion to the division above? How would anyone explain Bradford City, who are in eighteenth place in League 2, the fourth division, having an average crowd of 13,000 people at each home game? Journalists who sit in glass-fronted, heated press boxes with their paraphernalia all around them rarely understand what it’s about.
The chill November evening brings memories of the crush at Wembley Park tube station and the walk up to the stadium. There was always laughter and smiles and the smell of hot dogs and roast chestnuts and the shouts of touts, “Anyone selling tickets?” Inside the stadium the sound used to travel around the ground in great waves and the tide of people on the terraces would lift you off your feet.
I remember one train journey home, the midnight train from Paddington, which stopped at unlikely places and seemed to spend forever at Bristol Parkway before passing the city and dropping south into the dark Somerset countryside. There was a strange woman, maybe in her 30s, in the carriage, who was either disturbed or taking some substance. She would periodically waken sleeping passengers and complain about rats’ tails. Getting out at Castle Cary, or Bridgwater in the early hours, (I don’t remember now and they are on different lines), we spent what remained of the night in a friend’s house before turning up for classes at 9am.
I have no memory of the match we attended that night, no idea of who the opponents may have been, what mattered was being there. The fans last night will have been disappointed, but when the white shirts are pulled on again, they will be there, because football is about more than winning. As Bill Shankly said when he was asked whether football was a matter of life and death, ‘It’s far more important than that’.