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The International Writers Magazine:Football

On Winning at Portsmouth
Alex Hillman

1-0: Who really loses – Cardiff or non-football fans?
Alex Hillman examines Portsmouth’s reaction to the FA cup final.

So Portsmouth win the F.A. cup and I couldn’t care less. If winning football always means celebrating in the way football loving residents of Portsmouth (apparently the vast majority) celebrated on Saturday 17th May then I hope they never win another match. People I know have said that it is better for the city and better for safety that Portsmouth won rather than lost. Is it? I suppose that it is good that Portsmouth is a happy city – but happy in the way that only a native Portsmouth resident can be. With violence and intimidation. Quickly looking over the town’s papers, I see no mention of any violence or unacceptable social behaviour. I didn’t hear of any arrests made. Journalists and officials seem to take the dim view that as long as the violence is happy violence, it is OK. Like when I saw some yob hurl a dustbin lid against the side of a car on Saturday – it’s alright, because he had a smile on his face.

Let me put some things into perspective here. My girlfriend and I were both working on Saturday 17th May. It turned out that when we finished work (both 5pm) it coincided with the end of the football match that heralded Portsmouth FC’s biggest victory since the thirties. I had been keeping an eye on the match throughout my time working and already had an idea of what to expect. Walking through town and up to Elm Grove, throngs of people emerged incessantly tooting those air horns moronically, much like Homer Simpson in The Simpsons though without the writers’ wit or irony. Walking up Elm Grove the semi-comprehensible wails of "Play up Pompey, Pompey play up", the ridiculous mantra for the insane, issued from drunkards hardly able to stand. Children screamed from balconies, the aforementioned dustbin lid was thrown, and as cars waited at the lights, one-track minded tossers leant on the bonnets and forced the occupants to beep their horns (if I had been driving, I wouldn’t have done). As I walked past the Deco pub one bloke screamed in my face, "Cheer up! We’ve just won the F.A. cup!" Expressing my lack of enthusiasm at this time would perhaps have been unwise. My girlfriend and I both got home in the end unscathed. Football truly is the new war.

Why do I have to care about football? Why am I made to feel like I don’t belong just because I like things like theatre and writing? Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate the game of football. Since the age of 9 I have always taken an active interest in World Cups, European Cups whether or not England play (usually better for the nerves when they don’t, I find). And I am not one of those annoying people who pretend to enjoy the match just because England are playing. I just find it more exciting when different nations play each other, as opposed to clubs. Club football doesn’t mean anything. The majority of the players are foreign and I genuinely believe 99% of footballers don’t have any emotional attachment to the club they are playing for. It’s all about money. Football is tolerable in its simplest incarnation; parent and child going to watch a match played well and with grace. I remember reading a book entitled Topsy and Tim at the Football Match where Tim and Topsy engage in wholesome activities such as ‘cheering the team on’ and waving rattles(!). Now, the book doesn’t exactly indulge in a huge amount of what we would term ‘plot’ (and let’s face it, activities that can be covered in a picture book are pretty limited – Jean and Gareth Adamson are unlikely to pen an edition entitled Topsy and Tim Visit The Abattoir, are they) but the book does have the notable virtue of being believable as a nostalgic piece, documenting a time when families went to football matches without their kids being forever indoctrinated into a game where it is customary to insult the ref and to jeer obnoxiously as much as is humanly possible.

The fact is, football is fine when it is presented as important only to the people who find it important. Sports pages, football channels, Merlin sticker collections. All fine. I, like other non-fans, hate it when it is forced on me. How would Portsmouth fans react if I yelled in their face "Cheer up! We just premiered a successful new musical!" Knowing them, probably violently.

© Alex Hillman. May 21st 2008

Alex is a graduate of Portsmouth University Careate Arts Degree.

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