Sunday 20 July ~
Some people might be grateful that football pauses briefly in the summer but Cameron Carter is not among them, as he explained in WSC 222 (August 2005)
Even those among us who are not numerologists can confidently state that years ending in odd numbers are inauspicious. This is because their summers are deserts of non-football. It is barely a month since Liverpool brought last season to a shocking close and already the days, especially the weekends, are feeling pitilessly long. There are three alternatives for the football fan between late May and August in 2005: skirmish like a seagull with a bin liner for any scraps of football-related activity; find another sport to take football’s place temporarily; or – and this is the big one – try to find another form of human activity that can fill up the time.
With football shrunk to just two pages in the press and the Confederations Cup, the close-season survivalist has to dig deep to find sustenance. One option is to find a foreign country where they’re still in mid-season. Which is how I discovered FC Lahti, a team hailing from what looks in my atlas to be the enchanted southern lake plains of Finland and Jari Litmanen’s fourth native club. At the time of writing, we’ve won four and drawn two of our first ten games, leaving us comfortably eighth, slip-streaming the leading pack. I think we may have gone out of the Finnish Cup, but that bit of the website was in Finnish and it’s just as possible we won a two-leg game 7-6 on penalties.
The domestic transfer market is another source of diversion, allowing us to revel in Scott Parker telling us he has left champions Chelsea to give himself a chance of winning medals with new team Newcastle, whose last silverware was the Fairs Cup in 1969. With the dearth of football column inches about, I found myself clutching at straws in mid-June among the news pages, where a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police coined the term “total policing” and likened the police force of the future to a football team, with “defensive” police work, “attacking” police work and a “midfield” linking the two. Instead of dropping the newspaper to the floor listlessly after half a paragraph, I – starved as I was of football references – read right to the end and even nodded meditatively at this grade-one lunatic’s pronouncements.
Our second option is to keep a lookout for a holiday romance with the nearest summer sport. I tried Wimbledon, of course – we all have. My first match was Rusedski v Johansson, which would probably have been a fine example of the serve-volley game if the rallies had lasted that long. Barry Davies’s commentary provided a day-dreaming path back to football, but ultimately it was too uncomfortable listening to him try to find something interesting to say about points that were, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish and short.
The Ashes, starting in mid-July, are another possibility, but a five-day attention span is needed here and ideally this means calling in sick at least one day per Test match. It’s also difficult to get used to the different rhythm of cricket. In the minute between each and every delivery, the viewer is presented with a rural still-life complete with crowd murmur and the occasional horselaugh from the beer tent. Some find this charming and evocative of the easeful past. I actually take it as a rebuke from the upper-middle classes to the rest of us for our supposed culture of immediate gratification, as if by dawdling back to his mark with a cream handkerchief in his pocket the bowler is teaching us to store fine wines for years in a cellar rather than drink Black Tower with our chicken Madras. One of football’s many strengths is that it has never tried to improve us.
If you haven’t got the stamina for cricket, there’s little sport left to choose from. Golf is out for obvious reasons and Formula One is considered ridiculous even by Situationists. The third course of action open to us means finding something else to do at weekends other than watch or play football. As yet there is no reliable figure for the number of people who capitulate and agree to a wedding between June and August because it kills time before the Community Shield, but applying anecdotal evidence I have gathered to a national scale, this is the driving force behind a visible proportion of fairytale summer marriages.
Others who restrain themselves from this violent solution instead find themselves nudging balefully up and down the high street on a Saturday afternoon, or at a fête trying to win a bottle of Alberto Balsam, or at a car-boot sale wondering if they will make an offer for the Poldark boxed set. In these low moments, it is important to think of the big picture. The likelihood is that the person not getting out of your way quickly enough in WH Smith, who you are about ready to follow home and slap to death in front of their children, is just someone like you who is trying to find something – anything – that will keep them occupied until the start of a new season. Because we’re all in it together. Already this summer an associate of mine has made his second attempt to find out how his storage heaters work and his fourth attempt to read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Rather than find fault with this man’s labours, I pity him, as I pity us all. We must be strong and we must endure. And we must never, ever succumb to home improvement.