By Dan Lett
LIKE any Liverpool supporter, I will never forget my first European adventure. It was in Spain, I was eight years old, and the match was the 1986 FA Cup final.
My dad and I had a great pair of seats at the poolside bar of the Hotel Club Cartago in Ibiza. The view was unrestricted, except for the occasional passing waiter and a spot of sun glare bouncing off the wall-mounted telly. I’ll never forget the excitement on my dad’s face when Craig Johnston knocked in the second goal. “It’s there!” Dad shouted, dropping his piña colada, fists raised in salute before the curved screen of a twenty-inch Sony Trinitron.
Football has always been a mediated experience for me. For years I was ashamed to admit it, but the thought of going to a game confuses me — the game has always come to me. I know it’s shameful, but “footy” has always been short for “footage” as far as I’m concerned.
As a young Liverpool supporter growing up in Northamptonshire, my screen-based spectatorship grew out of necessity rather than choice. I started on relatively soft stuff: Teletext updates, Match of the Day, maybe a spot of Saint and Greavsie. When the TV money moved in during the late eighties, I eagerly graduated to regular televised live matches. By the time I got a job and a trip to Anfield started to look like a realistic possibility, I had a two-games-a-week-plus-highlights habit and the Internet had just arrived. I’d missed the boat.
I’ve been to live matches, of course, but I didn’t take to it. The pitch seemed so small, the viewing angles were oddly static, and the crowd noises were far too loud in the audio mix. I remember when my dad took me to see Kettering Town play Kidderminster Harriers. The Poppies had a goal ruled out for offside. It looked good to me, but I wasn’t sure: the rain was messing with the picture. I clearly recall staring blankly ahead, waiting patiently for the slow-motion replay. Then the queasy realization hit home: I’d never know if it was really offside or not — nobody would — and everyone around me carried on as though this was perfectly normal. I knew then that I didn’t belong.
In its defence, there’s something transcendental about the televised game. The camera pans and cuts, the sound surges and lulls, and the omniscient commentator weaves an immersive narrative, to the combined effect of transporting the spectator beyond the fleshy limitations of the human body, with its straining neck and always-inadequate bladder capacity. And on the telly, everyone gets the same view — adult, child, and wheelchair user alike — it’s a two-dimensional democracy.
There are downsides to the fandom-from-afar approach, however. I get hit with near-total TV coverage of Premier League and European matches here in my adopted home of Canada, and there are a ridiculous number of new ways to consume football in digital form. Sometimes I find myself up at 5 a.m. watching the game, while simultaneously checking the Guardian’s minute-by-minute reports on my tablet, using my laptop to keep up on banter spewing out of Twitter and chat rooms, and texting abuse to my Chelsea- and Arsenal-supporting mates. At times like that, I can’t help thinking that my mental health might benefit from a more traditional supporter’s lifestyle.
But excesses aside, the reality is that my experience is probably far more representative of the average Liverpool supporter than the image we have of the proper fan, occupying the same seat year after year, bussing up and down the country, patiently enduring a three-hour virtual queuing system in order to secure an extra child’s ticket to a third-round league cup game away to Dagenham and Redbridge.
Those are the real oddballs. Those that go. Those that bat away flayed shots and harangue the linesmen. Those that cheer and groan in perfect unison. Those that get rained on, shout themselves hoarse, and hug total strangers. Those lucky bastards.
Still, I’m happy with my lot as a stadium-dodger. A broadcast-away. A member of generation X-eyed. The absent majority. I’m in good company. I’ll never watch alone.