6 May ~ Recently I have received several complimentary tickets to watch a Championship team but the experience has been decidedly mixed. When a friend's son signed for the club near me at the turn of the year, I was delighted for the young man involved but even happier for myself. He was moving hundreds of miles from friends and family and I would be there to support him. Just as importantly, I would get to stuff my face with prawn sandwiches and other delights ordinary paying folk could only dream of.
Sadly, while the adventure has lived up to expectations in many ways, in others it has become an uncomfortable experience. Watching a team scratch and fight to avoid relegation is never pretty at the best of times, but when you’ve little interest in their survival it's even harder. This diminishing interest was made worse by the lack of opportunities offered to your reason for being there – a young boy who is desperate to play but never given a run in a side which you feel he could only improve.
Having eventually come to terms with such issues, you are then faced with a football caste system which would leave any fan bemused. There are the surgically enhanced WAGs – they exist at Championship level too – who have clearly been investing their husband’s hard-earned cash into something they value highly, i.e. themselves. But above them, at the top of the pecking order, is the father of the promising loanee from a Big Four Premier League club, who makes disparaging remarks about all the other players in the team, even when he is sitting among their friends and family.
For his son, having to slum it in the Championship is clearly a strain, hence his need for an entourage reminiscent of the crowd of hangers on around an American heavyweight boxer in the 1970s. This leads to mutters of disquiet among the other members of the freebie fraternity who have been limited to two tickets and then see the entourage eating all the fruitcake and hoarding the free programmes.
This all takes place in the main executive box, the one reserved for people whose player is in the starting 11 – another means to separate the wheat from the chaff. Technically speaking this is not the best box as it is tight in the corner of the ground – the smaller box for the friends and family of the subs is slightly further along towards the centre-line. However, no matter where you have been placed, you do not want to be in a box with a player who is not playing.
In the football caste system, these people are the untouchables. Players appear very uncomfortable in this set up, clearly aching to be out on the pitch. This is a view shared by most of the other people in the box, especially if you put your foot in it by asking if they are injured when in fact they are fit but dropped and not even on the bench.
So you are ever offered a complimentary ticket, don’t just think of the free programme, coffee and (entourage permitting) fruitcake. Ponder on the maelstrom of emotions you might be faced with in a world where football is much more than just a game to the people you are watching it with. Kevin Donnelly