The ramblings in this post were sparked by a couple of things I read this week.
The first was a delightful article1 describing how much the author enjoyed taking his nine-year-old son to football matches. That stirred some memories of my dad taking me to Birmingham City games when I was a similar age. Going out with my dad was an utterly different experience to going anywhere as a family or just with my mom. My mom explained how to avoid life-threatening injuries by waiting for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting off. My dad taught me how to jump off moving buses. Going to football matches with him was like stepping into a different world, one that was louder and more exciting than my everyday world. I don’t remember the results or other details of many of those games but I do remember the atmosphere and how good it felt to be with my dad.
The second article that stimulated some thoughts was a Golden Years feature2 on televising football games. The Mail is not my favourite newspaper but I did enjoy the old photos. I also found out something I didn’t know before: Arsenal played in the first football game to be shown live on TV. It was in 1937 and it was a game they couldn’t lose as it was a specially arranged match between Arsenal and Arsenal reserves.
The first football game I saw on TV was the FA Cup Final in 1956, which Birmingham City lost 1-3 to Manchester City. We didn’t have a TV at the time so Dad and I watched it at my grandparents’ house. They didn’t have any interest in football and that seemed to make it harder. If I have to watch Blues lose then I’d much rather be there at the ground, surrounded by others feeling the same pain.
That’s why I’m glad I went to Leicester yesterday. The first 77 minutes of the game were very enjoyable and the last 17 weren’t miserable.3 Some Blues fans started walking out after the penalty when we were 3-1 down but a lot kept on singing and were there to celebrate Burke’s goal at the death. Losing to late goals isn’t fun but it’s part of the game and winning with late goals is wonderful. One of the games I do remember from my youth is one that took place on this day in 1956. We were losing 0-2 to Arsenal after 34 minutes but we won 4-2 with goals on 69, 74, 76 and 86 minutes. Fifty-seven years on I can still remember the thrill of that win.
Televised games are a poor substitute for watching at the ground; when you are sitting on a sofa you don’t get the sense of community that you do at the stadium. That’s one reason why I’m in favour of anything that will reverse the decline in attendance at games. The first complete match to be shown live on TV was the England versus Scotland game in 1938. The attendance at Wembley was 93,2674 which probably was at least 10 times the television audience as only around 10,000 TV sets had been sold in England at that time. Now the big games attract huge TV audiences and game times are changed to suit the needs of TV rather than catering to the convenience of those who actually go to games. As television audiences go up; attendance at many grounds goes down.
The article I mentioned at the start of this states a good reason for going to games to support a run-of-the-mill team rather than staying at home to watch elite footballers on TV: “supporting a mediocre football team provides a perfect preparation for real life: long periods of alternating boredom and misery, from which you pluck what beads of sensation you can, punctuated by occasional and almost unimaginable elation.”
Birmingham City’s triumphs are few and far between but when they come, we experience a greater elation than supporters of big clubs do. If Arsenal had won the Carling Cup in 2011, their fans would have been elated at ending their 6 year drought without cups or championships but they wouldn’t have known the heights of joy we felt after winning a major cup at Wembley for the first time. What better preparation for life could you give to your children than taking them to St Andrew’s?
- My son the football fan
- Golden Years: From humble beginnings to Match of the Day
- I do know that 77 + 17 = 94. I was including time added on.
- Scotland national football team statistics and records: attendances – 1938