It was an evening kick off. Probably a Wednesday night. The heart of winter. The closer you got to the ground the more contagious became the excited air of expectation. It was a big part of everyone’s mood, pervasive like a smell. The kind of thing you ought to feel when going to church. My father and I moved through the heat and stink of the hot dog stalls outside the ground. Everyone was wearing blue scarves, even the old men. Age mattered less here. It was probably the first time I had felt part of a community. Not spinning around in an orbit of my own.
The programme, bought for me by my father outside the ground, was like a book of spells. The most exciting thing I had owned – far more magical than any toy I had ever possessed. And perhaps here began my love of turning pages. The moment I first caught sight of the pitch washed in floodlights was like standing on tiptoes and peeping at a world you were forbidden to enter. I half expected to be pulled away and sent back to my room. Never had I seen colours ache with such pristine beauty - the tiny players in their royal blue kits, the green grass and its chalked white lines looked like some magical kingdom beneath the liquid snow of the floodlights. And there was my absolute hero with the number eight shirt. To see him in the flesh, an Olympian god, mixed up the first chemical cocktail of romantic love in my being. I was enraptured but I contained my joy. My father kept looking at me as if to make sure I was succumbing to the appropriate emotions. I became engrossed in the abuse and hatred focused on the away supporters at the other end of the ground. This hatred I noticed was a bond between the males. It enabled them to touch and hug each other, to swear and shout. And there were no women on hand to interpose a fairy story in front of the underlying threat of menace. This was the adult world and I had become a member.