Safe Side Of The Screen

Football is all around me, but only by association. Not something I’ve played
much myself, but always there, through my friendships. In Ireland, my first
home, not so much of the soccer as the Gaelic football. Only one girl in our
class was allowed to play – with the boys! The rest of us stood watching,
envying the rugged Roisín, yet glad not to take part in something so tough
and teamly.

In 1970, aged six, I collected World Cup coins from Mobil petrol stations. In
the heat, Alan Ball’s face shimmered from every other disc. His wife, Lesley
Ball I remember from a more sinister sauce – the Bisto gravy ads in my
granny’s Family Circle magazines.

My mother had table football, a sub-subbuteo. To this day, I’m never sure
why, as the only other boy’s toy she had was an Action Man in training for
the priesthood, knees eternally bent in front of a plastic altar, cold and
naked as he waited in vain for his vestments! Is it any wonder my brothers
became altar boys?

From ‘70 to ‘80, the only footballs in my life were cheesy footballs, a
snack served at occasional drinks parties and other grown-up functions.
Scotland sang briefly about Ally’s tartan army in ’78, but their own goal
ceded to Iran in Argentina made more impression than any other performance.
At my Scottish convent, we were led to believe that rugby was more desirable.
Accordingly, my first great crush was on a flanker!

Scotland again qualified for the World Cup in ’82, and by this time I was
marginally interested, roaring with rage the night they lost to Russia. I was
drinking – legally at last – with a St Mirren player, a relative of the
Scotland squad’s John Wark. (Name-dropping extends no further than this!)

My first boyfriend was, bizarrely, a policeman who charged a crowd at a
football match and burned books at Greenham Common. Ours was a stormy match,
and so too was the next, where my ‘big man’ argued that he’d rather be going
to the match on Saturday with his mate Gordon than spending his time with me.
He never went, though, and neither did he ever take me. I still haven’t been
to a ‘real’ game, though I’ve feared the crowds of Hibs and Hearts, and
later Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, and Milwall. Perhaps if I went, I wouldn’t.
I’m told it’s too expensive – now.

The years and the Cups went by, giving way to Euro ’96, for me the definitive
nerve-gnawing moment – my Czech friend was staying in England. I’d once
shared a flat with her in a shoe-making town in Czechoslovakia. Together in
’96 we passed through London on Final day, a London plastered with Czech
notices, its streets running with Pils and Slavic songs. She boarded the
coach to Prague, and I took the train back to Gloucester.
I bit all my nails that night, the night they lost to the Germans.

Source: https://footballpoets.org/poems/safe-side-of-the-screen/