15 September ~ After 55 minutes of Scotland's Euro 2012 qualifying group game with Liechtenstein last Wednesday, I made a promise to myself. If the score remained Scotland 0 Liechtenstein 1, I would never watch another game of football as long as I lived. I wouldn't look at scores, or tables, or anything. If people started talking about football, I'd stick my fingers in my ears and start singing "Giiiiiiirls just wanna have fun" in a really loud and annoying way until they moved off. But of course the score changed, and Scotland gloriously won the game with a brilliantly contrived 97th-minute header. The most amazing thing about that goal, though, was the number of fans still in the stadium to witness it.

Why, you wonder, had most of them not already left in disgust after burning their kilts, bursting their bagpipes and casting one last glance at Hampden before vowing never to return? A cynic might say: "It's because they thought 1-1 was actually quite a good result for Scotland, and they were just waiting to applaud their boys off the park." But there's another reason. They simply couldn't leave the stadium. Whether it was a desire to see the winning goal or just morbid fascination, it seemed that at the end of the game, the stands were heaving with jubilant, and massively relieved, fans. Who will now always be able to claim that they were there "the night we almost lost to f***ing Liechtenstein".

There are fans who have faith and fans who don't. The fans who don't are the ones who leave early. Personally, I'm like the Scotland fans. I just can't leave, no matter how bored or disillusioned I am. I once tried to leave a Swiss Cup semi-final between Grasshopper and amateur side Red Star Zürich – Grasshopper were 6-0 up, there were five minutes to go and the stadium was seven-eighths empty. But I was still worried I might miss something, like Red Star scoring six goals in five minutes. Or, failing that, a bald eagle landing on the pitch, or the referee dropping his shorts and mooning in the direction of FIFA HQ. You just never know, do you? And so after exiting the stand, I kept stopping at the stadium portals and standing there to see out the game's dying moments. And I just caught sight of Grasshopper scoring a seventh. Yep, looks like they're through.

I thought of this again on Saturday as Everton fans celebrated their second goal in stoppage time to claim a draw against Manchester United. I was mainly thinking of all the fans who'd left already, because there were a lot of empty seats. I was imagining what they felt as they heard the first muted cheer from outside the stadium. "Ah, a consolation goal, ah well, 3-1, 3-2, what's the difference, there's no way a team like Manchester United give up two goals in injury time… [hears massive, unrestrained, gobsmacked roar]. Oh great, we got a point. Hooray. I'm glad for us, I really am. But why did they have to wait until I left before they scored twice? And why did I leave early? [Holds head in hands and collapses to the floor] Why did I do that?"

And that's what I utterly fail to understand. Why would you pay £25, £35, £45 or more for a ticket to a 90-minute football match and then not watch the whole thing? Of course, the historical precedent of being 3-1 down to Man Utd with just two minutes of stoppage time to play could lead you to logically conclude, as a pessimistic Evertonian, that this will be another bad Saturday and you'd rather beat the traffic than wait to see the sight of glory-spoiled away fans cheering at the final whistle. But for most fans, there are only a few moments when you get to unleash wild, unfettered screams of crude joy in the company of several thousand others who are simultaneously going nuts. You have to work for those moments of collective glee. As in life, you endure hours of tedium and disappointment, but just occasionally you're rewarded with a treasured moment of surprise and delight. In fact, it's all we live for. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (15)
Comment by therealfacup 2010-09-15 11:30:11

And isn't it a fact that more goals are scored in the last 5-10 minutes than at any other time in the average football match? Foolish to leave.

Comment by rockford 2010-09-15 11:47:25

I experienced unbridled joy as an Oreint fan, seeing Matt Lockwood score a hatrick in the last 11 mins of a game, having been 3-0 down to Gillingham, the ground having emptied slowly and steadily during the second half. A certain ammount of the glee was the knowledge of being able to take the piss out of some of those fans already back in the pub.
On the other hand, a contributer to this magazine still berates me for leaving a Bournemouth away game 5 mins early, with us being 3-0 down, for us to miss a Lee Thorpe consolation goal, which was allegedly a pearler.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2010-09-15 14:10:56

I was dragged away from Hampden after the Liechtenstein game by my last-train-catching friends. We all stayed to the final whistle and I was in no mood to applaud anyone other than the visitors off the pitch. Neither do I ever abuse my own side, no matter how poorly they play. But I have a wee rule about not leaving any game until everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is off the pitch. Unfortunately this means I've had to watch a couple of Humbas being played out by visiting triumphant Germans but it also means I've seen a few attacks on linesmen going down the tunnel, fisticuffs between opposing managers and centre-halves, abuse of visiting players who remain on the pitch too long while milking an away win and those lovely, final, bitter insults hurled at opposition or officials which, in an all-but enmpty stadium resound more clearly than ever.

Not that I'd ever get involved in any of these acts - obviously - but, as you say,you have to get your money's worth and, to be honest, the departing bits of soap opra can often be more interesting than the 90 minutes which preceded.

Comment by lone striker 2010-09-15 14:39:02

We see this a lot at Grimsby. There's no real reason for it - it's just a sort of herd mentality effect. I'd always assumed that Blundell Park started to empty out with 15 minutes of the game left because of people trying to 'beat the traffic'.

Then I thought about it, and about half of the fans who leave are too young to drive.

Then I thought about it some more, and remembered I was in Grimsby, and there isn't any traffic.

Comment by Adam Wilson 2010-09-15 15:37:25

Forest fans are just as bad as the Grismby fans, by the sounds of it, and it doesn't matter what the score is. Most famously, the annoying 'scuse me scuse me' botherers missed Des Walker's only ever goal (an absolute belter) in the last minute v Luton. On the other, at Colchester you are well advised to leave 10 munutes early to get out of the car park or be prepared to queue for over an hour (I was told that when the crowd is 'over 6,000' they cannot cope).

Comment by jameswba 2010-09-15 16:29:47

Identified with this article. I recall a visit to Fratton Park to see WBA in 96/97. It was November, there was sleet and rain, we were in a roofless away end and a spineless, late Buckley-era Baggies team were 4-0 down at half-time. Half the away following were gone before the second-half kicked off. Having stuck that one out to the end - Pompey couldn't be bothered to score more, Albion were too inept to manage a consolation - I can't see myself ever, ever leaving before the final whistle. Alex is right that post-final whistle events offer a drama of their own but this was one day when I was glad to at least spare myself that.

Comment by heikob 2010-09-16 07:32:07

Great article! No matter what, you just do not leave! I was probably ten or eleven years old, and I had been to the stadium in Moenchengladbach (the old Boekelbergstadium, Liverpoolfans will remember it) with my Dad many times. I was deeply afected by the Borussia Moenchengladbach bugg back then already - it still persists. We never left early, and traffic was always horrible after the game, because the "Berg" was in the middle of the richest residential area of the city. We had endured horrible games, bad losses, boring football, wind and rain (only the main stand was furnished with a roof, and we always had stand-up tickets...). And then, I went to the game against Stuttgart with a friend of my Dad's, Heinz Kueppers, a nice guy, but.... Stuttgart had just equalized in appr. the 85. min. And then, Heinz Kueppers dragged me to the exit, because he wanted to beat the traffic, in order to watch the Sportschau (German TV's highlight show on Saturday evening - in institution). I had no choice, but I almost cried. In fact, I did cry in the car when I heard that Borussia scored a winner in overtime - Uwe Rahn, a cracking header. I never went with Heinz Kueppers again. And I never left early again...

Comment by rckd 2010-09-16 16:16:43

Never, ever, ever understood (and will never understand) why anyone would ever leave a football match early. Senseless. The final few minutes are the most tense and therefore have the most scope for incredible moments. Clichy's foul on Parnaby, Gallas' subsequent strop and McFadden's equaliser from the spot - fantastic.

Leaving early denies any chance of seeing any last-minute drama, and it is those special moments that might only come around once or twice a season (or you might be on the receiving end of just as often) that make football what it is. A game that has been 'barely-watchable' for 85 minutes can become worth the entrance fee on the final five minutes alone.

Normally nothing much happens in those final five minutes. But if something incredible happened every week, it'd cease to be special. And it's those special moments I always crave and they're what keep me coming back.

Comment by Walker 2010-09-17 11:11:22

Only ever left a ground early once- Champions League Final 1999- won't do it again in a hurry.

Comment by denishurley 2010-09-17 15:40:38

lone striker - you were in Cleethorpes, not Grimsby!

Comment by Gwladys Street 2010-09-17 22:41:20

When i was young I remember my uncle always having a pint in the club of our local team before kick off and at half time. Couple of minutes late in every game, off 2 mins before h/t and back 2 mins after.
I also remember us winning 3-0 once with goals in the 1st, 45th and 46th mins. He missed the lot.

Comment by Nwankwo25 2010-09-20 12:57:07

I would like to hear from a Cheltenham fan who left last season's encounter @ Burton in the 85th minute...

Comment by Jongudmund 2010-09-20 13:43:10

One of the most frustrating aspects of all seater stadia is that people arriving late or leaving early (at half time or full time) is so disruptive. Everyone has to stand up and peer round them, often as the first exciting move of the match builds up.

It should be banned. No leaving your seat until the whistle except in dire emergencies.

Comment by Harvestchris 2010-09-22 10:27:25

Check this out. Another early departure victim.

Comment by Illinoisblue 2010-09-22 18:57:08

I left the recent Chicago Fire v LA Galaxy match in the 87th minute (to beat the traffic. seriously, have you seen the state of the roads around here?) with the score at 0-0. Walking out to the car I heard a loud roar behind me, fireworks going off. 1-0 Fire. Get home thinking Fire had won only to find LA had equalised deep into injury time. But it was only MLS so I wasn't really too bothered.

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