YOU don’t miss it till it’s gone. That’s what they always say.
There comes a time when a healthy interest develops into an obsession and then, ultimately, into an addiction.
I’m lucky, I can hide my own folly in plain sight, even from myself if I must, but take it away from me and the cracks begin to show. The addict breaks from the armour of normality.
I love football, love it to the point of addiction. I consume it wholly and unquestioningly. You do too. Well, I assume you do. It’d be pretty weird if you were reading this without sharing that love.
For many people, that interest ends just there. They watch the game, enjoy it or get bored at it and go back to their lives, content or disinterested. That’s not for us. We squeeze every drop of juice we can from it, because it’ll be days before we get the chance to see another one.
We’ve all got normal mates. Those who ‘follow’ the game rather use it as a foundation stone for their lives. Those who don’t book holidays and family events around the match rather than over it.
I used to work with one lad who was on nodding terms with supporting The Reds. One Monday he asked me how we did at the weekend. He neither knew the score nor had the curiosity to look it up. I sat stunned at that. So much so that I delivered the harshest punishment allowable by office etiquette. I left him out of the next tea round.
When the Premier League announced an immediate cessation of fixtures, I took it in my stride. I like having the odd weekend off to see my non-footy mates, so this was just an extended period of that. It would just be like having a summer break in March. Yeah, I could cope with that.
But that’s just Liverpool playing the actual match and that’s only a fraction of what goes on. I hadn’t factored that in. What about the lost minutes speculating about lineups, injuries, squad rotation and the like? Why hasn’t Gini signed his contract yet? That sort of thing.
And that’s before the day itself. Much of my time is spent preparing for the hours before and after those 90 minutes.
Usually I like to meet my brother-in-law before home games and then go onto any number of pubs where my wider circle of mates congregate before going in. After the game, I’ll meet some of them for a quick exchange of views before heading back to the car to shout at the radio phone ins. This is a routine that hasn’t changed for years.
Away days are a bit different. Living in London, my mates and I sort out who’s going to what, who’s working that day and who’s going in whose car before we get down to plan meeting places and times.
I love that there are hundreds of little groups of Reds like that around the country doing exactly the same thing with their own mates, cars and coaches. These are people I’ll never meet or know, but for whom I feel a kinship.
That’s not just a Liverpool thing either. Every now and then I’ll meet another fan who does the same for their club and we’ll get around to discussing their service station of choice for the trip up north and whether they prefer using the M6 toll road or take their chances with the Birmingham traffic. It’s like a secret code between the knights of the road.
One lad told me that he regularly stops at Hilton Park services on the way up. Weirdo. It’s Corley or Norton Canes. Everyone knows that. (Incidentally, I’ve just sent that paragraph to a few mates and been told that Warwick is acceptable if we’re on the M40 and Frankley is fine on the way back though never on the way there. I’d go along with that.)
But that had gone too, along with that strange matchday quirk which allows you to know you’ll see a mate in a crowd of 40,000 people even though you haven’t arranged to meet them. All gone. No match, no mates. I hadn’t considered that when the governing bodies turned off the tap.
Slowly but surely, I needed to scratch the football itch. The addict within needed feeding. I asked Twitter if anyone had any footage of a game of Subbuteo or even of themselves kicking a burst ball up against a garage door, just so I could have something to tide me over.
Yeah, the BBC showed some old matches and the Bundesliga came back, but it wasn’t the same. The latter looked and sounded like little more than glorified games played in a leisure centre in front of a set of parents. That wasn’t drama. That was just an undercard to the main stuff.
And that main stuff is back this week. This strangest of strange seasons begins anew with the small matter of a Goodison derby. We won’t be able to go to the game obviously and that’ll feel odd, but it’s lads in red against lads in blue and that’s always a good thing. Well, it will be if we win.
There are times when I wonder if football is good for me. I don’t mean the headaches, the time lost thinking about the possibility of Palace getting a point at City or whether I can get a half day off for a night game. I mean more in terms of energy, time and money.
If I were to have all that returned to me, would my life have been of more use? I might have become a doctor or something and been on hand to rid us of this bastard thing. Can I really go to the gates of St Peter and realistically hope that my attendance at the 1988 League Cup tie against Walsall will swing the deal? It’s unlikely.
‘We won 1-0.’ I’d tell the angel with the clipboard. ‘Gary Gillespie,’ I’d add before offering my weakest smile.
Of course, the last three months have made us live that alternate, no-football reality. In the summer, you can offset the lack of games with lengthy discussions about transfers and the new fixture list. We haven’t even been able to do that, and I can’t say I’ve enjoyed any of it.
Oh, it makes perfect sense to postpone the games – life and health comes first, after all – but I can’t wait for that kick off on Sunday. Cannot wait. It won’t be the same, but I don’t care. It’ll be red against blue, formation against formation, tactics against tactics, and this time it might have the biggest prize riding on it rather than that of *just* local pride.
The match returning also means that days have a shape again. You know when you wake up and it just feels like Saturday? That’s coming back.
No more having to stop and think about what day it is. With football comes structure. To this addict, at least.