There are two games left before football’s ocean leaves us stranded and thirsty over the summer

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Just consuming the Premier League is like only eating a thin layer of icing on a big tasty cake. Football’s glorious omniscience can turn into a summer void.


As a thrilling game between Ross County v Partick Thistle drew to a close from a sunny Dingwall, with Ross County triumphing on penalties after coming from 3-0 down on aggregate with 20 minutes to play, there are just the two European finals left of the 2022-23 season. After that, it will be that time of year when we reluctantly uncouple ourselves from football’s freight train for a few weeks.

It’s only when you are forced to do this that the degree of your football addiction really shows itself. If you can do it easily, in a way, I admire you. Because I can’t. To me, it feels like I’ve lost something dear. I’ve lost my pal. I feel at a loose end every evening at 7.45pm or 8pm and will do until I can be distracted by the World Cup in the third week of July, even if it is morning kick-offs.

I can’t be the only one who uses football as the skeleton upon which to drape my life around. Partly this is down to writing about football every week, but in truth it has always been like this for pretty much my whole life, because I’ve always been interested in the game from the lowest amateur level to the highest international level.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

As the pyramid is so huge, there’s an enormous amount of football going on at any time throughout any season, so you’re never short of detail and you can dive as deep as you like. As a child I would look up all local Teesside teams’ results in the Evening Gazette and developed a fascination with Port Clarence when they won the Middlesbrough and District League and League Cup in 1971. It was all so submersive and comforting.

My football passion offered a sort of stability and consistency that wasn’t always available elsewhere. It gave me a sense of other people and of other places and us all having the same thing in common. It planted the seeds of what became my resilient communitarianism that not even the current era of rampant individualism can squash.

Understanding the commonality of football at least potentially makes you less reflexively selfish and self-centred, I think. It’s not about me and mine, it’s about us and ours. That’s a good thing to keep close to your chest. No-one gets through alone. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. At some point, you’ll need people who you’ve never yet met.

That’s what is so good about the Saturday 3pm culture. Here we all are, north, south, east and west. All together. At the same time. For the same reason. It illustrates the truth that more unites us than divides us, and that’s a good psychological bulwark against those who try to drum up culture wars to divide and rule us.

I find the deeper you dive into football’s ocean, the more you get out of it. I can’t imagine just being interested in the Premier League, for example. That seems like only eating a thin layer of icing on a big tasty cake. I’m currently researching Scottish Junior football, which has a long and noble history in Scotland with its own association and competitions. It is a fascinating sporting, social and industrial history, documenting the rise and fall of collectivised labour, encompassing factory, mine and shipyard teams, amongst many others. It all helps you to understand how we got to where we are, where we might be going and where we should be going.

Once you jump into this deep pool you begin to understand that football is embedded into every single community in an extraordinarily granular way. Unless you live on the moors, you are rarely more than a mile or two from a football pitch of some sort. I live in the West of Scotland on the Cowal Peninsula overlooking the Firth of Clyde and there are 79 clubs across five divisions in the West Of Scotland Football League alone. Seventy-nine! Most of them have a long history. Football is everywhere and it’s watched by anything from a few dozen to a few thousand people every game. It’s an antidote to those who can’t see past the big monied clubs, full of big monied players, charging big money to watch them playing their big money games and it is embedded into the core of every community. Its arms are wide and they embrace many thousands of people.

From a practical point of view, when you follow football as a sport, there are always results to digest and discuss and fixtures to analyse and anticipate. These days you can easily digest results from all over the world. And you are always moving forward and there is always something to look forward to.

But about 10 years ago I fell head first into a dark depression for a few months. It was absolutely heinous. I could find no joy in anything. Everything seemed pointless. The thought of the pain of existence ending was something that was easy to embrace. I was smothered with an almost physically painful melancholy which rubbed away everything that gave me pleasure, including football.

For a while, I lost myself, went bonkers and felt the tide of madness wash the beach of sanity from under me. But as this cloak of infinite sadness slowly lifted from my shoulders, it was football which, along with vinyl records, had helped pull me out of depression’s morass of misery. I knew I was getting better as soon as I felt an uptick of interest in the Northern Premier League table and what was the debut album by the Graham Bond Organisation. And slowly, the lights that had been so firmly turned off, began to shine brightly again and thankfully have stayed that way ever since.

So you can see, football is wound into my very Mitochondrial DNA and I know I’m far from unusual in that. It’s a lovely old friend who holds many of our hands through life. It has certainly seen me through so many awful times and helped me celebrate even more great times. Dawn, my partner, lo these last 43 years, often calls the game my nanny. She knows she can leave me with nanny and that I’ll be looked after and content, allowing her to get into her painting. In the summer she worries about me and what I’ll do without football. I always say I’ll be fine, but I never totally am and she knows it. I know I’ll be restless, scanning channels for a game. Tonight it’s the Bundesliga relegation play-off and I’ll be watching to see if Hamburg can beat Stuttgart. Later in the week I know I’ll be watching some of the U20 World Cup on Fifa’s website. Then there’s MLS to distract me.

As I said last week, I’ve loved the condensed season that has just ended. There was just so much football. It felt as though there were games being played every day of every week. There was always one to watch or listen to with a lovely large vodka. Always there, like a heartbeat. I understand those for whom it is all too much and apparently there are people who are only interested in the team they support and pay little attention to the game outside of those matches. Fair enough. But for me, it is football’s sheer omniscience that is its greatest asset and that’s why, when it disappears for a few weeks, life seems empty.

But on time rolls, there’s always another season coming and just when I’ve adjusted to a football-less life, it will return, comfortingly familiar and with the same attractions it has always offered. And away we shall go again and I shall be as thirsty for it all just as I was in 1971 searching for Port Clarence’s results. Funny how it gets under your skin, football, isn’t it?

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