~ Quote attributed to Queen Elizabeth II
I write to you from my toasty warm living room and yet I am shivering and cold to the touch. Am I ill? For once, nope (yay!). I am, instead, still chilled to the bone from standing outside in the cold for two hours this afternoon. And why would I do such a crazy thing when my toasty warm living room, pyjamas and laptop were sitting unused at home? Why else, but for the love of the beautiful game.
Ever since I was a wee tote I've lived fairly close to Seaview, the ground for the Irish League football team Crusaders FC, and I was probably a season ticket holder there before I could even spell "Crusaders". Indeed I have spent most of life supporting the good old red and black "hatchetmen" and even when I spent a couple of years living in Yorkshire I regularly checked to see how they were doing in my absence (not great as it turned out, since they were relegated the season after I moved away and promoted again the year I returned - I could read something into that y'know!).
There aren't a great deal of female football fans out there - in my experience those girls who do appreciate the sport either grew up with lots of brothers or, like me, were dragged along to matches from an early age - but I think that men hold a certain respect for a woman who not only understand the offside rule but can go head-to-head with you on a debate about a decision. I'm not saying I know all the rules in intricate detail but when I hear half the things the men in front of me on the terraces are shouting I sometimes think I have a better grasp on things than some. My only fault (if you can call it that) is that I tend to be a bit too unbiased. If there's a bit of a tussle during a free kick and the referee blows his whistle and rules in favour of the opposition, those around me will inevitably be up in arms about it, while I'm thinking, "meh, they were as bad as each other...", which I've learned is fine as long as you don't say in aloud, in which case you are instantly relegated to a "typical bloody woman not understanding the rules of game!"
I must admit that I'm not quite as enthralled by the action on the pitch as my male counterparts. If there are just a lot of long balls going on or it goes out for a throw-in every two seconds, my mind does wander. I probably drive the Yorkshireman mad with random comments about the sky looking weird today or asking him random questions that have formed themselves in the strange depths of my mind, like whether he thinks that the assistant referees and fourth official can relieve the referee of his command if they think he had become emotionally compromised and is therefore no longer fit for duty, à la Star Trek. To give you an idea of how much pity you should feel for my poor husband, these are just a few examples from today's match. Whether my interest is not an intense because I'm female or just because I'm a bit of a daydreamer, I'm not sure, but I really do like the game. There's nothing quite like the thrill of seeing the ball fly over the goal line of the opposition's net. I often jump for joy... literally. And woooo. I woooo a lot.
But never mind a lack of female fans - the problem with Irish football is a lack of fans in general. It seems so strange to me that if you ask any football fan from Northern Ireland which team they support, they'll more than likely name an English club. Even when you prompt them which team they support in the Irish Premier League, most of the time they dismissively say something like, "oh I don't really support any Irish teams." I think it's such a pity. I mean if you live in Belfast and support, say, Chelsea, how often do you actually go to Stamford Bridge and watch them play up close and personal? Granted there are those nutters you always see at the airport on Saturday morning adorned in their team's colours who spend a freaking fortune buying season tickets and then flying back and forward for all the home games on another land mass, but the more usual scenario is that the person you ask has maybe only been once or twice, if at all. And sorry but watching on TV is just not the same - you only see what the TV cameras decide you should see for one thing (which isn't great for me - how am I supposed to tell the Yorkshireman how weird the sky looks if I can't see it?) and also you just don't get the atmosphere and the feeling of camaraderie you get in person in the stands or on the terraces.
It's a shame for the Irish football clubs too. Most of them are in debt and on the verge of financial ruin because they're just not getting enough people through the turnstiles. Okay so the condition of the grounds and the facilities aren't exactly the greatest, but it's a vicious circle: people don't come to the games, so the club has no money, so they can't afford to repair or upgrade anything, so the ground falls further into disrepair, so people don't come to the games... etc. And it's not like the IFA is forthcoming with much money to help the clubs improve things either. Well, except for Linfield. Oops, did I say that out loud?
That said, the clubs are trying their best to muddle through with the few resources they do have. Unfortunately the biggest resource needed is money and the biggest source of money is the fans. Crusaders are lucky in that, whilst we don't have a lot of fans, the fans we do have really get behind the club and are willing to support it in any way they can. There are constant fundraising efforts from the supporters' clubs and the club's Special Efforts Committee to make sure the club stays in business and is able to compete with the bigger clubs like Linfield and Glentoran. They really deserve a lot of thanks because most people, like me, are kind of lazy and quell their conscience by giving money rather than making an actual effort. So thanks guys and gals, if you ever read this.
So, if you get your kicks (pun fully intended) from penalties and corners and your favourite team happens to play a few hundred miles away, why not give a local game a try sometime soon? Although given that I returned home over two hours ago and my feet still feel like blocks of ice, I would maybe recommend waiting until the temperature rises a few degrees... brrrr!