by Russ Cowper
Finally on Thursday I realised enough is enough. We are a hardy bunch football fans and we go to great lengths to watch the love of our lives in the flesh. Four days beforehand my team Manchester City had been at Wembley: we won a trophy, had a fabulous time and buzzed with the anticipation of our next game. It had not been cheap with ridiculous timings making train travel home expensive and limited. We didn’t moan, we knew thousands of fans were travelling down from Manchester and managed to book a cheapish hotel for the same price as return day travel. My finances just about covered it after expensive trips to Newcastle and Crystal Palace between Christmas and New Year’s eve. Trips to Bristol City and Cardiff thrown in the mix and jaunts to Liverpool and Wigan helped with the clearance of my bank account.
Thursday, March 1st. The powers-that-be hurled Arsenal at the Emirates into the madness with an 7-45 KO. You could maybe make the last train home if everything went well but to make sure you would have to leave before the end: a cardinal sin to most football fans. I looked at my finances and decided to go, putting my train ticket on the credit card and praying I would make that train because if I didn’t it was a night on the floor at Euston.
Then the “beast from the east” arrived. I couldn’t get my car out of the street, nobody could, so it looked like a walk to the main road and a taxi to the station. I looked in my penny jar and I had just under £8 which would pay for the taxi and I could find a cashline in London. I knew there was one at Euston. I was meeting a friend down there who had our match tickets and another friend who lives in North London was coming with us. I woke early in anticipation and the weather was dreadful. The game the night before at Wembley had a snow covered pitch. Was it going to be on I wondered? I spoke to my mate with the tickets and he was on his way as he was working down there so had to go. I spoke to my mate in North London and he said he wasn’t going to work because the public transport was a mess. I was on the 11.43 am train booked specifically to get a better price and a 11pm train was booked for home.
There was no news from the authorities about the game. The forecast was awful and the police were telling people only to travel if absolutely necessary. So it was decision time. I could go and if the game was called off I could spend eight hours sat in Euston waiting for my train home. I could go and hope the game was on or I could just say no, enough is enough. I decided on safety first, I’m not great on my legs, I walk with a stick and if I fall I cannot pick myself up. I was gutted but my safety had to come first. It was the first time in fifty years of watching City I had made that decision. As it happened the game was played and I missed seeing us beat Arsenal at their home ground for my first time. I sat at home and watched and as well as we played I felt cheated out of the experience. I was angry when I should have been glowing with admiration of the football we played.
As a football fan I felt I didn’t matter anymore. I was a lad who went everywhere during the dark days of the late ‘70s and ‘80s when football in this country was close to dying through violence and antiquated stadiums. Some of us kept that flame alive as attendances plummeted and disasters occurred. Now I feel we have been thrown on the scrapheap as useless relics of yesteryears. Why you might ask and the answer to me is simple, – it’s the need for sports channels to fill their airtime and keep their armchair subscribers happy with their diet of never ending thrills and spills. The match going fan is not important and the ridiculous scheduling of fixtures proves this; the game at Arsenal proves this.
It was a fixture that should have been called off 24 hours before kick-off so that fans had no need to travel through conditions even the police considered dangerous. How long will it be until fans are not even considered part of the “product”? The broadcasters could always pipe in canned atmosphere and then fixtures could kick off at 4am for the expanding armchair markets. Fans could be replaced with cardboard cut-outs holding banners and orchestrating moronic songs. The product must go on and the profits must keep rolling in.
We don’t matter anymore, perhaps we haven’t for a while now but the love, loyalty and stubbornness we show towards our clubs annoys them. We were once part of the product, now they don’t want us there: they prefer we sit in our armchairs paying their outrageous subscription fees.
Thank you to every Manchester City fan who made it to the Emirates. You did football supporters across the land proud. Every single one of you was magnificent.