Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

The chaps thought I was mad going to Stoke.

Several reasons. Number one was that the match was being shown live on telly and could be watched in the comfort of our local pub. Number two was the fact of our poor form. We've played four and lost four.

And reason three was that it was a lunchtime kick-off on the advice of the police. A lunchtime kick-off is meant to act as a deterrent to visiting fans, as it means their having to rise before dawn for the long journey, and with little or no prospect of a decent pre-match drink on arrival to fortify themselves for the game. Even the manager and the centre-half weren't going up, they said.

They had decided instead to stay at home to fast and pray and observe the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

But I am an old disciple who delights in perversity. And Stoke away was my first opportunity to watch the lads this season.

Besides, I like Stoke and Stoke people. You can have a good laugh in Stoke. About the lunchtime kick-off and not being able to have a drink, however, they had a point. I like a drink before the game. Which is why, at ten thirty, while the majority of our fans were slumped in their coaches on the motorway, under threat of having their passports taken away if they as much as imagined having a beer, I was already there, in Stoke, shaved, breakfasted, informed (by my complimentary hotel copy of the Independent) and ready to rumble.

I walked out of the hotel, across the car park and crossed the road to the stadium. There was a policeman every five yards of pavement for the Pope's visit to Birmingham. The ratio for ours to Stoke was about the same. I found the away supporters' end and approached the turnstiles. A team of about 20 orange-jacketed stewards looked up with interest and some bemusement as their first away supporter of the day sauntered up in a grey pinstriped suit and a cream shirt with cuff links. One of these motioned me to hold out my arms while he frisked me. As he did so I looked down at his shiny, shaved head and the swallow tattoo where his neck should have been.

Another steward handed me a piece of paper warning of the dire consequences of standing up while the game was in progress.

Smoking was not allowed anywhere in the stadium, he said. …

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