August 05, 2011

Four weddings and a funeral

CENTRAL PARK examines his support of Pools



Not long now, and I can hardly wait. I’ve spent the summer avidly watching the total of season ticket sales steadily mounting and desperately searching for announcements of new signings. You would think I had nothing better to do, and you would be right. And therein lays my problem.

What does it say about the quality of my life (not to say mind) that I should give such prominence to the fortunes of a football team. After all ‘sport is an adornment to life - not a substitute for it’ as the great Barry Davies said, quoting some other wiseacre who thought he had an understanding of the meaning of life. I think he was probably some languid public school layabout who never had to do a day’s work in his life and spent his time studying Virgil and Homer (not Simpson, the other one) and listening to classical music – Bunter I think his name was. Well all I can say is that his sensitivities must have been incredibly dulled by his indolent life style.

You see, the trouble with these blokes is – they’ve never lived.

Oh it’s all very well sitting through Mozart concerts and Shakespeare plays but they can’t possibly produce the same thrill that was produced by the stunning 30 yard drive of Les Crook against Notts County in September 1970 (yes I looked up the date on the Pools stats web site. I remember the goal but I can’t be expected to remember exactly when); or that wonderful feeling, a combination of exhilaration and malice, that I felt when Eifion Williams scored that goal in that magnificent victory at you know where.
"I mean, fancy arranging a wedding for the forthcoming winter, and doing it before the fixture list came out"
It is said that on the day America entered the Second World War Winston Churchill went to bed and ‘slept the sleep of the saved’. I know how he felt, because I was there when Willie Waddell turned in the six yard area and smashed in the life saving goal at the Stadium of the Damned in 1972.

How on earth can anybody with a grain of sensitivity compare watching a Shakespeare play or listening to a Mozart concert to the emotional experiences described above? I think the proper word for it is ‘rapture’.

There are those (I’m married to one) who say that Hartlepool United plays a far too important, not to say disproportionate, role in my life.

I’m not going to exaggerate by comparing my consuming interest to the sufferings of genuine substance addicts who literally cannot function without a daily intake of their particular poison; and I’m going to get into a competition with those who go to all of the away games and are able to remember the number of miles they have travelled in support of the team. My particular affliction is the belief that if 'Pools are playing at home and I’m not there then some unimaginable horror will occur. I’m not daft (short pause while certain slow ‘wits’ try to think of a printable rejoinder). I know that in the real world nothing very much will happen if I don’t turn up, nevertheless I have a compulsion to get to the ground if the team is in action in league or cup games. I start to panic if something looms up that might possibly stop me from getting there.

It’s not my fault; it’s the way I grew up. Well that’s the excuse used by every other crack pot whose deviant or eccentric behaviour has led to him being up before the judge; whether it be for murder or the even worse crime in Hartlepool; parking a car on the zigzag yellow lines outside a school at five minutes to midnight on a Sunday in the middle of the school holidays.

Mind you credit where credit is due. It was an absolutely brilliant ploy of the mayor to cover the town in temporary yellow lines and then leave them there so we would have to guess which were in operation and which were not. That little bit of confusion must have provided easy pickings for the money making machine known as the ‘road safety car’.

Still, as the twerp in charge of the spy wagon remarked in the Mail, ‘that’s the law’. I wonder if that clown ever met Mr Bumble.

Now back to the world the rest of us live in.

I was first introduced to 'Pools back in the early 50s. There was no telly and sweets were still on the ration so a trip to the match was the highlight of my week. I know that I should have grown out of it but I was a slow learner and instead of the interest becoming one of many in a rich and varied life it just developed into an obsession (now that’s what I call luck).

The rot set in in 1953 when, along with half the lads in the town, I was allowed to ‘play the nick’ to watch the cup replay with Northampton. The next step was taken in 1955 when my grandmother died. I was considered to be too young to attend her funeral so I was taken to the match instead to keep me out of the way. This somehow gave me the idea that it was alright to miss family occasions if I was going to watch ‘Pools instead. The practice soon arose that when any forthcoming family event was announced my first reaction was to consult the fixture list to see if it clashed with my favourite pastime.

It got to the point where I became exasperated with anybody who did anything that might affect my chances of getting to the game. I would be furious with people who had made arrangements in their own personal lives and had not taken into account the fact that it might clash with a home fixture.

I was so unreasonable that I even blamed them when they had made arrangements when they could not possibly have known the fixtures because they had not been published. My reaction was ‘why couldn’t they have taken account of the fact that the date they have chosen was a Saturday and ‘Pools might be at home’. I mean, fancy arranging a wedding for the forthcoming winter, and doing it before the fixture list came out.

As a result I’m ashamed to admit that in addition to the funeral I also failed to turn up for a few family weddings and went to the match instead. I knew at the time that what I was doing was wrong and would cause offence to people who I really cared about – but I couldn’t stop myself. Afterwards I had a feeling of guilt and shame and swore I wouldn’t do it again; but, sure enough the next time a fixture clash came up, off I went to the then Victoria Ground.

Happily for me there have been signs that I might be getting over it. A bit of common sense and a healthy regard for the pound in my pocket conspired to keep me away from the ground a couple of years ago. Even for me, paying £30 to watch a competition with Sunderland reserves, Hamilton Academicals and somebody else was a step too far. Nevertheless I was still racked with feelings of guilt during those two days.

Now filled with confidence that I am no longer in thrall to Hartlepool United I await the new season with serenity and confidence; mainly because I don’t know anybody who is likely to get married in the next twelve months.