By Andrew Martin.
It’s easy to support a Premier League team. If you have to stand in a hot shower, pep-talking yourself, desperately trying to find the will to go and watch Sadio Mané score impossible goals, on an impossibly perfect playing surface, from your seat in an envy-of-the-world stadium, then you’re probably following the wrong sport. That’s not dedication—it’s a cry for help. Grassroots fans know true dedication. We wake up at the weekend, smile like a big white upside-down croissant, don our finest Antarctic expedition thermals, and trek, through fourteen different types of weather, to our regular seat. I say ‘seat’; I mean ‘place where we stand for two hours, utterly exposed to the elements, politely questioning the lino’s integrity and drinking cups of tea with Bovril chasers’.
If you’re reading this, you’re either a grassroots fan, or you’ve been dragged to a grassroots game by one of these most dedicated followers of football. Look around you and see if you can spot these very particular types of fan.
Your enthusiasm knows no bounds. The tin foil FA Cup you made for the 119th preliminary round tie last year takes pride of place on your mantelpiece. Your kids sleep in beds without sheets because you’ve covered them all in paint and masking tape to make banners. You’ve had your photo taken with the manager, purely so you could print it and make face masks with the eye holes cut out. The manager laughs uncomfortably when he sees you and your mate wearing them, but they’re scared. Deep down, they are really scared.
You’re saving up for a real bass drum. A nice one, decorated in the team colours. Until then, though, that nice plastic bucket will do, and you will rally the troops as best you can. You’ve never been seen without the bucket. Neither bucket nor tubthumper can exist without the other. Hedgehogs die without their parasites, just as you would simply evaporate into the ether if anyone ever took your bucket. You are a social pariah.
The Home Counties Mourinho
You provide incessant tactical analysis to all around you. It is all absolute drivel. You’ve never even finished a season on Football Manager. Gary Smith is not “the false nine this club has been crying out for,” and Amy Abbot is not a “regista” – she is a midfielder – nothing more, nothing less.
The Misery Guts
You hate football. Crow landed on the pitch before kick off? That’s a bad omen. Right-back wearing number three? That’s bad luck. You’ll say things like “Yes, Kevin de Bruyne has played at a high level and he’s a big signing for us, but I just don’t think he’s cut out for grassroots football…” and “Yes, we’ve won the league, but we were poor for that last five minutes, there. We’ll struggle next season.” Come on, mate, have a cuppa. Everything will be alright.
The Probably-Too-Dedicated Fan
You rearranged your wedding because it clashed with an end-of-the-season dead rubber. “We can get married any time, but we’re only playing Basingstoke away once, this season. No brainer.”
The Radio Operator
You stand stock-still and silent for almost the entire game, earphones in, radio contraption from the early 2000s in your pocket. Occasionally you will pipe up with, “Olimpik Sarajevo just gone 1-0 up against Radnik Bijeljina. Penalty, apparently.” You’ve never seen a look of real interest on another person’s face.
The Wise One
You’ve been here since Day One. You’re stoic. You exude wisdom only attainable through age and experience. You’ve witnessed things that other grassroots fans couldn’t imagine. You’ve seen a dog score a goal, you’ve seen the groundsperson play in net, you’ve seen a sinkhole suddenly open up in the middle of the pitch, you’ve seen an eagle swoop down and carry the little winger away as a meal for its babies. Nothing shocks you. You just love the atmosphere, and the comradery, and the mud. You are the very soul of grassroots football.
You’re amazing. You’re the most vocal supporter at the match, screaming and shouting for the full ninety minutes whilst looking after a baby in a pram. You’ve been seen to lift your child out of the way of a bad tackle near the touchlines while simultaneously remonstrating with the ref. You do all of this without uttering even a hint of a swear word. You are a grassroots hero.