It was so good to get to this bench today, after 2 weeks in the Mediterranean. This damp English oaken bench suits me well. Corsica is all well and good and fair’s fair, the wife and kids enjoyed themselves, but think of what I missed – the 1st. day of the Nationwide, England’s home defeat against Holland, ITV’s Premiership debut and my next door neighbour Norman getting a satellite dish.
So it was with some relief that I arrived back on Sunday August 19th. to towering cumulo-nimbus clouds, the silver light of silver rain, autumnal winds and Fulham on the wireless. I met some good people in St. Florent – Barry, Port Vale fan exiled to Berkshire, Tony the Liverpool season ticket holder and antiques dealer – and also had dinner interrupted by the arrival of David Mellor, sans Chelsea shirt; but, to be honest, I’m more of a Weston-super-Mare man than a Corsican marina man. So my first view from the bench will analyse that Keatsian sense of alienation that all football fans feel when they can’t get the scores when abroad (where does that word come from?) on the first day of a new season. The couplets will eventually address that Keatsian cliché about truth and beauty. So here we go then, with Statistics on the first day of the Season.
We’ve statistics ‘bout our houses,
Statistics ‘bout our homes,
And whether we eat chicken,
On or off the bone.
Statistics about fishing,
‘Bout perch and tench and carp,
And whether we are flatulent,
How many times we fart.
We’ve statistics about fashion,
Should clothes be straight or bent?
Or should they hang all loose and free,
What length should be the vent?
Statistics about schooling,
What constitutes success?
Are children moving steadily?
Not slow or to excess.
Statistics ‘bout pollution,
And if the sea is clean,
Statistics about energy,
How nuclear is green.
Statistics ‘bout New Labour,
And how they will deliver,
On targets quantifiable,
While truth and language whither.
Statistics about footballers,
How much a day they earn,
And whether they invest it
In clubs and P.R firms.
Or if they think of parents,
The ones who helped them out,
Who bought when young a football,
Instead of drinking stout.
Will they buy their parents houses?
In villages so twee,
For a long retirement,
In Devon by the sea.
A nice sequestered village,
With rosy eaves and thatch,
And by the honeyed chimney stack,
Satellite dish, natch.
Or spend their dough with druggies,
And snort and smoke, go wild,
Catch lots of sexual buggies,
And be a mad wild child.
Or go to evening classes,
To learn a useful trade,
In case they’re injured early,
Their ligaments all frayed.
We’ve statistics ‘bout our football teams
From seasons new and yore,
Just like our summer photographs,
They’re guaranteed to bore.
But the first day of the season
Is the one to shout about,
Does the season promise much?
Promotion or a rout?
Far when you support Swindon,
There is no in between,
You either live a nightmare,
Or the season’s like a dream.
But the first day of the season
Finds your holidays abroad,
In sea girt scented Corsica
Where Swindon’s score’s not called.
There’s very few we English here,
And we’re all middle class,
No football shirts are on view here,
Or bellies or fat ass.
No one with world service,
With crystal set about,
Huddled round the poolside,
Calling all scores out.
Just one small dusty paper shop
With faded Murdoch press,
With ancient news from long ago,
‘Bout Drake and Good Queen Bess.
The scene is nice, I know all that,
The sea and mountains too,
But Swindon versus Peterborough,
Means more to me than view.
Is it rain or sun on Wiltshire’s Downs?
Is the crowd in mac or shirt?
Is the pitch all green and emerald?
Or bare, a patch of dirt.
It makes you think of Arkells Ales,
The ones you’d drink for hours,
And all those bitter English beers
From railway towns like ours.
But there’s this temporal problem
About the start of play,
For 3 o’clock in England
Means 4 for me today.
For this is the Mediterranean,
The blushful Hippocrene,
With bubbles beading on the brim,
The perfect Keatsian Scene.
When we kick off, here it’s half time,
So does it end at 10 to 5?
Or when my watch shows 6 o’clock
Could our hopes be still alive?
It’s little problems just like these
Which confuse and vex the mind,
For spatial-temporal matrices
Make truth so hard to find.
But truth is beauty, Keats he said,
And beauty’s truth also,
But how can I find out the truth
With no paper to be sold?
No papers and no means of communication! Agony! The unbearable heaviness of not knowing. I find out the truth 3 days later. 0-0. Missed a penno and had a man sent off. Hopes and expectations ruined for another year. What’s the point of all this anxiety? It never does any good does it? There’s no sympathetic magic at work. Despite our folk belief, we cannot affect the scores through emotional commitment – but for most of us, followers of teams that consistently let us down, it is better to live in hope than with certainty. This raises the question about the nature of football truth – isn’t truth, in fact, more often ugly than not? Is Keats wrong in his football analysis? Is ignorance not, in fact, bliss?
Test yourselves – how long could you go without knowing? Could there be a new blissed out consciousness beyond final score?