First of all, let me introduce Dave Normal.
Dave isn’t actually a real person: I made him up for the purposes of this blog. But Dave, his story, and his thoughts, may echo strangely across the wires and down the cable to your computer screen…
Dave, for his doubtless many sins, is a football supporter. And his natural habitat is at grass-roots level. Wherever there are jumpers being laid down for goalposts, wherever boys kick about cheap plastic footballs, wherever a brick wall and a stick of chalk becomes the scene of the 1990 World Cup semi-final shoot-out between us and the dreaded Germans, there you will find Dave Normal.
Not for Dave the band-wagon, the ‘trendy’ clubs. Not for Dave the high-finance or the big name signings. Dave gets his pleasures the simple way. In short, Dave is always hopeful, always positive, always ever so slightly disappointed.
Dave, like me, could easily be a supporter of Queens Park Rangers. Or Blackpool. Or Plymouth Argyle. Or indeed any one of the slightly unfashionable, slightly humorous, so-called ‘little’ clubs who live on a heady mixture of past glory and future promises. Some clubs are on the up, some clubs are in a slump, but all of these clubs have the one thing that the super-rich clubs desire above all things but cannot buy: the life-long supporter. The fan that whether in the Premier League or the Blue Square South, always take their place in the stands or on the terrace, pie in hand. In effect, Dave Normal.
Dave’s first ‘proper’ game was spent almost entirely on his dad’s shoulders at the back of the terrace staring, with the vivid intensity only a seven-year-old boy can deliver, at the distant men chasing the almost invisible ball around the field. It’s a moment that, with the hindsight and wisdom of middle-age, defined his whole life from that moment onwards. It could so easily have been a life filled with red rather than one filled with blue. But on that day, nearly half a century ago, a combination of skill, refereeing decisions, and judgement errors dictated that the scarves, hats, t-shirts, pillow-cases and wallpaper would be a certain colour – as soon as he could convince the parents to shell out the readies for a new look.
Through the years, Dave was forever present. Despite the changes and challenges that life brought, his love for his team was the one constant. Despite being bullied at school (often for supporting the ‘wrong’ team), despite the lack of funds, there was always just enough for the train and the entry ticket. Despite work getting more invasive into his time, there was always the opportunity to find a quiet corner of the factory to read the paper for any mention of his boys. Even despite discovering girls, there was always a part of his life that forever, solely, exclusively belonged to his team. Saturday afternoons and the occasional Tuesday evenings, either at the game or beside the radio.
There were great highs. There was the time that, on the television in front of millions, Dave’s beloved team humbled the giants of the game. There was the year that they themselves nearly joined the elite, but somehow failed to hold on to top spot after the last game. Dave was there, watching as they walked up the Wembley steps towards the famous and still beautiful F A Cup, only to leave it there for the winners to collect after they had trudged off with their runner’s up medals. And there were the times when promotion brought hopes of success and glory.
There were terrible lows. There was the time when a cup final appearance went horribly wrong against ‘lesser’ opposition, and Dave felt this loss much, much more that when they themselves were the underdogs. There was the midweek cup tie on a cold November night against, of all teams, a factory side that shouldn’t, couldn’t have ended in disaster – and yet somehow did. There was the terrible slide into relegation and a summer of depression. A hundred times disappointment and failures brought thoughts of moving on. And a hundred times the new dawn brought Dave new optimism and hope.
What will next weekend, next month, next season bring? Dave knows. It’ll bring moments of sheer joy, and moments of utter despair. It’ll bring the delight of three points that he knows they didn’t deserve, and the desolation of the home win thrown away in four maddening minutes. It’ll bring hope, sadness, camaraderie, and solitude. There will be those that share in his happiness and enthusiasm, and those who delight in his despondency. One thing Dave knows above all else – all of this can be summed up in one word. Football.
At the start of this entry, I said that Dave Normal was a made up character. That wasn’t strictly true. Dave Normal is me. He’s also you, your best mate, your dad, your son, and in some small way everyone else who has ever looked at twenty-two blokes chasing a pigskin around a park and seen beyond that, seen how something intensely competitive and masculine can also, to a bloke, be beautiful.