I like watching football. I never tire of it. In my house we keep the cliché alive as my wife often rolls her eyes at the sheer quantity of footy on the telly and I respond that I’d happily have more. If I’m strolling through a park on a Sunday and there’s a game going on I delight in lingering and derive as much pleasure from it as I would taking in a random FA Cup game on the box. Perhaps, actually, I should refine my opening sentence. I like watching football when I care little about the outcome!
Following a Blues match, however, is a different matter entirely. I’m not referring to the clumsy joke I make when I reveal to new acquaintances I support Brum.
“Do you like football?”
“No I support Birmingham City.”
I’m referring to the fact that watching your own team is a much more intense, visceral practice. I don’t ‘like’ watching Blues. I’m not sure I love it either. The experience evokes a nebulous swell of emotions in me that’s difficult to define. It’s certainly addictive and the rollercoaster is at its best when watching them live. There’s no substitute for it. Viewing on the T.V comes a far second. Being there in person provides the purest hit, if you will, and like all addicts I don’t relish much time occurring between fixes.
These days I reckon I get up to Birmingham once every two months or so and that means with a bit of planning (and help from my Dad!) I normally manage four or five games at St Andrews a season. Speaking as someone who had a season ticket for about eight straight years, I can tell you, it’s not enough! Sometimes it feels like I’m being weaned off something and as a result I have endured some pretty terrible compromises. I mentioned watching Blues in a pub last time, well this account is about watching Birmingham at away games… sat with the home fans.
I understand that this is a compromise too far for some people. I get it. I respect it even. I’m aware it’s a practise frowned upon by stadiums themselves too. Selhurst Park (which is five minutes away from my flat) won’t sell you a ticket for the ‘home’ seats unless you cough up twenty five pounds in advance for some sort of silver membership package. A policy asserted no doubt in order to put off the likes of me. However, when my friend Ben offered me a spare ticket at Craven Cottage for Fulham vs Birmingham I couldn’t turn it down. It’ll be fine I thought. I’ll sit on my hands. I’ll bite my tongue. I’ll even attempt a smile if Fulham score. It’ll be fine. It will be fine.
Jasper Carrot used to do a routine about watching Birmingham at Old Trafford amongst Manchester United fans. His friend unwittingly spoils their subterfuge at half time by loudly expressing displeasure at the lack of Bovril. He describes the fear of being revealed and it crossing his mind to cut himself in order to bleed on his clothes and display a little red.
For my trip to Fulham I wore neutral colours and affected a cockney accent. That last bit is a lie. The first thing that struck me, actually, is how lovely the walk to the ground is. Through a park and along the Thames you go until a little residential road leads you up to the ground. You’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re off to the football. I think it’s fair to say Craven Cottage offers a rather different match-day experience to St Andrews. A little sanitised to its own detriment perhaps? I am, of course, hugely biased!
The game began and I was exposed almost instantly. The ball went out for a throw in which patently should have gone our way but didn’t. I was up out of my seat and was about to remonstrate with the referee’s assistant when my mate Ben pulled me down and gave me a stern look. Message received. For most of the first half my behaviour mirrored that of Birmingham’s performance. Impotently paralysed. Trying desperately to not express my frustrations with our constipated display was really difficult. Watching Birmingham live in this manner wasn’t giving me the hit I needed. It was the Diet Coke version of my favourite pass time and was thus far from satisfying. I was seething at half time and totally unable to discuss our failings with anyone. It was like having to tolerate a relative’s racism so as to not spoil Christmas when all you want to do is scream into their ignorant faces. Fulham were a goal up at that point and I couldn’t see a way back for us. The second half offered much of the same pap until a rare foray into Fulham’s area produced a penalty! Once again I surged to my feet and once again Ben pulled me down. Up stepped Jeremie Boga and over the bar went his wild penalty kick. Everyone around me leapt to their feet in joy and eventually I stood with them so as not to draw attention to myself. Bluntly put, it really sucked.
I suppose in the end it had been fine. I wasn’t found out and beaten to a pulp. Perhaps I’d have felt differently if we’d won, or even played well. All I can say with some certainty is that the same game viewed from the away fans end would have been a much more pleasurable experience. Sometimes, in order to watch my beloved Birmingham City, I compromise maybe a little too much.
I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s made such compromises; if you have too why not leave a comment at the bottom of this article, get in touch with BCFC Followers on Twitter or Facebook or find me on Twitter as well. I’d be particularly interested to hear from interloping Blue Noses who managed to watch us win!
Keep Right On!
Read our previous fan view section here.
Words by @ThomasWillshire