Saturday, 14 November 2009


Before you read this week’s love-in, watch this short 2 min video. (It does not contain any actual football)

What you just saw happened in East London on 25th August this year. Why? Well, because those ridiculous, almost hard-to-comprehend scenes are what tends to happen when grown men love football a bit too much.

I can’t be overly critical of them, I love football myself. In fact if football was suddenly banned or outlawed I think I’d probably kill myself.

…Or maybe just watch figure skating.

In 1981 in a televised interview, Bill Shankly the Liverpool FC manager, made the famous quote “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. It’s not. It’s more serious than that”. The men you just watched attacking each other and fighting with police would undoubtedly concur. It’s not merely the sport as a stand-alone entity (22 men kicking a pig’s bladder across a pitch into two metal constructions known as ‘goal posts’) that provokes such intensity. It is the history, the embodiment of identity, the localisation of innate pride and engrained partisan loyalty for your club that manifests itself not just in love but in equal parts joy, sadness, frustration, anxiety, boredom and anger.

The two sets of fans you saw fighting were West Ham and Millwall supporters. Hated rivals from East and South East London. This is by no means the biggest rivalry in London. There are 13 professional football clubs in London. More than any other city in the world. Just to put this in context, take America as an example; most US cities have just one professional team per sport. Sometimes entire states just have one professional team! In rare instances you will get two per city (Chicago Cubs/Chicago White Sox for example), London has 13. They range from massive clubs whose supporters number millions globally (Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea) to clubs with very small localised fan bases (e.g. Barnet or Brentford).

As well as professional clubs there are countless part-time or amateur London clubs, all of which feasibly have the opportunity to turn pro if they ever get good enough. English football’s tiering system, unlike most other sports around the world is ultra-democratic, allowing for virtually unlimited ascent or descent through the leagues.

But never mind long established clubs, one only need look at the number of football pitches and 5-a-side Astroturf pitches you find when travelling through the city to be convinced we are singularly football mad. Hackney Marshes in itself has the highest concentration of pitches in Europe. On a Sunday morning, more than 100 games take place. That’s 2,200 men waking up hungover or otherwise bleary-eyed and dragging themselves to a desolate expanse of land to have the shit kicked out of them by their opposing marker (an overweight builder wearing tight shorts and intermittently puking up last night’s Stella and doner by the corner flag). This is a level of devotion bordering on mental illness.

Football violence is equally insane. And yet in a way I respect both of these versions of a shared passion. Surely the willingness to put your body and mind in mortal danger on a Saturday afternoon denotes love in its most extreme form?

For those that do not understand, it’s difficult to teach. Normally one falls hopelessly in love with football around the age of 7 or 8 years old in the school playground. Unfortunately once smitten (or scarred depending on your view) you can never walk away. Personally I’ve never completely trusted any man who doesn’t like football (note: lesson one in how to alienate a clearly specified section of your readership). And I find it hard to contemplate how anybody can live without it. However, I will now attempt to illustrate the point with a poignant London footy tale about some poor unfortunate souls who were forced to live without it.

Until 2004 London had 14 professional football clubs. In that year, Wimbledon FC, located in South West London since 1889 and FA Cup winners in 1988 were forced to relocate 56 miles north of London to the concrete suicide bunker known as Milton Keynes. After a decade or more of Taylor report-induced ground refurbishment, ground-sharing with Palace, wrangling over land ownership and the inability of Merton borough council to find them a suitable home locally, the owners of Wimbledon FC sold the Plough Lane ground to the supermarket chain Tesco for £8m and moved the club away from its London home and its loving supporters.

Imagine you had followed a club (or for that matter invested time, love and money in anything of personal importance: a lover, a horse, a theatre, a Datsun Sunny) for 20 years or more. Then suddenly that club/horse/theatre/Datsun Sunny is whisked away from you (60 miles away) renamed MK Dons, rebranded and irreversibly altered forever. The impact of this for local supporters must have been devastating. Out of this sad set of circumstances, however, emerged a Phoenix from the flames representing enduring Londonish love. In 2002, when the Milton Keynes deal was finalised, AFC Wimbledon was founded by a set of supporters in the local area and began life (again) in the lowly amateur leagues. Former supporters of Wimbledon FC immediately flocked to follow this ‘new’ team within the community, considering the club a continuation of the original Wimbledon and deriding MK Dons as ‘Franchise FC’. Seven years on, promoted four times in seven seasons, AFC Wimbledon currently sit 10th in the Blue Square Conference Premier, just one tier below the professional football league.

That’s devotion, that’s true love.

Right that’s enough love for one day, let’s go and kick someone’s head in...


  1. Enfield Town FC were formed in June 2001 when the original team of Enfield FC, due to several reasons, couldn't play their home games in Enfield. That's says it all. The supporters form a whole new fucking football team, as they want a team, the newly formed, Enfield Town to play in Enfield. Since then, Enfield FC have gone to the wall, with Enfield Town Fc rising through the ranks. Plus no-one forms a football team to make money, it's more a case of someone buys a football team when they are already a millionaire, just to basically show off. So, knowing they won't make any money off of it, they go to the effort of creating a whole new football team, from the Essex leagues, and now they are in the Rymans Division 1 (8th division in the Pyramid), all down to the fact that they wanted a team in their home borough. Many American cities are lucky to get a sports team in their state; In England, we want one in our fucking borough!!

    Having been to about 30 games in the last 2 years, and seeing how much they put into their team, i take my hat off to them. And speaking as someone who is still recovering from a hard sunday league football match this morning, a hard fought 8-5 defeat, and having played 8 games this year with a achillies tendon, thus spening the whole week limping, just so i can play on a sunday, i too share your sentiments.


  2. My 16-year old cousin wished Aids on the mother of a Man City footballer just for scoring a goal against his team (Adebayor; Arsenal V Man City).

    When I reproached him for it, he turned his virulence onto me, transferring his hate and bile onto the person trying to reign in his anger and rationalise his thinking.

    I used to love football when I was young and complained less but now when I'm around the anger and violence associated with these tribalistic tendancies it just makes me want to switch off.

    ps. The same cousin also thinks that I watch football because of Fernando Torres... which probably contributed to his desire to rant at me...!

  3. Met so many top people through watching football and it's given me some real highs and lows. Amazing memories. Plus, in all my life, the team I follow are in their lowest position ever right now and I love them more than ever. Part of me would never want to get to The Premiership.....

  4. some interesting points but football hooligans are, like thugs of any other nature, an unwanted and inexcusable entity. i'm all for verbal animosity, and that is one of my favourite elements of going to away matches (especially at the lane), but given that my grandfather (a gooner) used to be able to walk to arsenal/sp*rs derbies with his brother-in-law (t*ttenh*m), watch a game of football together, then walk home via a pub speaks volumes about the base degeneration of society and society's values.