I CAN only vaguely remember the first Liverpool game I went to. My dad took me when I was probably a bit too young to appreciate what was going on. I know he’d bought a Mars bar to keep me entertained and I spent the majority of the first half asking when I could have it. He gave it to me at half-time and I then spent the second half asking if he had another one. Sadly, I have never been able to shake off that desperate need to eat things that are bad for me at all hours of the day.
Thankfully, though, I did become more interested in football as time passed. I say ‘thankfully’, but there are times I’m not entirely sure I like being a football fan. The game completely dominates my life. How happy or otherwise I am depends entirely on the scoreline from the Liverpool match. Am I free this weekend? I’ll have to make sure the Reds aren’t playing first. I’m quite sure numerous relationships haven’t gone as smoothly as they could have because I haven’t been ‘present’ in the moment, instead wondering what the team will be for Manchester United away.
Why is it that football grips some of us and not others? I’m a Liverpool supporter because my dad was a Liverpool supporter and his dad was a Liverpool supporter. My brother keeps an eye out for the results and nominally calls himself a Liverpool fan, but he rarely watches the game and I distinctly remember him asking why Michael Owen wasn’t starting a match about six months after he’d been sold to Real Madrid. So why did it become such a passion for me?
Some of it is doubtless the people we surround ourselves with. My brother was in the Royal Engineers. His life was much more about rugby and dinner parties and God Save The Queen. There were always less people interested in football when I went to visit him on the various bases he was posted to. He left the Wirral, where we grew up, when he was 16 and was removed from that life and supplanted into another, more regimented one.
I, on the other hand, played football in the playground every single break time. Most of my friends played the game, watched the game, talked about the game. When I went to university I lived with a Leeds supporter and a United fan. We’d bond over trips to the Student Union to watch whatever game was on the weekend on a big screen. One of the other lads I got to know there supported Aston Villa.
In those formative days, when you’re just developing as a person but don’t yet feel brave enough to talk about politics or feelings or family, chatting about football was an easy way to keep the conversation flowing and get to know someone on a superficial level. By the time I graduated from Sheffield Hallam I was so used to talking about the sport on a daily, if not hourly, basis that it was almost the only thing I cared about. Certainly my studies had taken a backseat to my love of the game.
After Sheffield I moved to Birmingham and trained as an actor for three years. Not to play right up to the stereotypes of people in the arts but there were certainly less football-based conversations there than in previous times of my life. That’s not to say that I didn’t speak about football with anyone; I was best man at the wedding of a Leicester City supporter who I met at drama school. I’m still friends with plenty of people who I bonded with over football and my ‘day job’ nowadays came about directly as a result of befriending a colleague’s fiancee over our mutual love of the Reds.
It’s fascinating to me how people came to be football supporters. I also find the level to which people take the game seriously really interesting. On more than one occasion someone has told me that they support Liverpool and I’ve been midway through a conversation about how a switch to 4-2-3-1 might get the best out of the players we have fit before I’ve realised that what they meant was that they only really keep an eye out for the results.
I’ve never really done drugs. It’s never really interested me, to be honest, and I don’t like the idea of losing my self-control. I’ve also got quite an addictive personality so I’m afraid of where I’ll end up if I go down that path. The closest I’ve come is gambling, which could have ended badly.
Why am I talking about drugs and gambling? Because there are times at which I wonder if football is what I turn to in their place.
Over the years I’ve had to endure some horrible lows because of football results. I was close to despondent after we lost to Chelsea in 2014, for example.. To this day I still haven’t seen their second goal as I walked out of the room as soon as the ball left Iago Aspas’s foot from the corner. I’ll confess to having a tear in my eye at the end of the Crystal Palace game that year, though I knew before kick-off that we’d lost the title.
Yet the highs that football gives are almost incomparable. Standing arm-in-arm with friends of mine in a pub in Birmingham watching the Istanbul penalty shoot-out will go down as one of the best moments of my life. I remember speaking to my dad on the phone afterwards, both of us full of emotion. I ran down the street screaming, people nearby looking at me like I was a lunatic.
More recently I was lucky enough to be at Anfield for the comeback against Borussia Dortmund. I have never experienced anything like it. The noise was insane, the atmosphere rocking. As the clock ticked down towards the end of the game it really felt as though we were on the cusp of something; that together the lads on the pitch and the folk in the crowd could achieve anything.
That’s why I’m glad my dad didn’t give up on me after our first trip to Anfield. He persisted and stuck to his guns, confident that eventually the football would appeal to me more than a Mars bar. He was right to and thanks to him I’ve enjoyed some of the greatest experiences possible. I’ve made lifelong friends and got gainful employment all because of football. Perhaps there are times when I take it too seriously and I’m certainly working on that. Nowadays a loss only ruins my day rather than an entire week. Right now it doesn’t look like I’ll have kids, but if I ever do I won’t hesitate to get them into football. For better or worse, it’s shaped the person I am today.