Sucking heartily on life's half-time oranges

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Punched In The Face By Football

I am out of the loop. Seriously. I haven't watched live football for three years. In 2012, I got bored - as if a voice in my skull had said 'Seriously? But you could be writing novels, watching theatre, going to gigs, having A LIFE' and without waiting to hear any protests reached over and pressed the big red button that said 'I HEART FOOTBALL.'

And it all went black. 

But - there are some habits that are meant to be broken. So what better way to get myself back onto (or is it off?) the trundling football wagon than to go to Wembley to see Wycombe play Southend in the League Two play-off final. It was WEMBLEY, after all. I only knew one player. I wouldn't be able to shout for particular strikers to lurch forward or sing the latest Number One Hit Chants, but could clap merrily along, like the sort of proper FAIRWEATHER SUPPORTER I always derided. How times change.

Wycombe shouldn't have even been here. Under Gareth 'Rock of Ages' Ainsworth's tutelage, we'd been in promotion places until the last few weeks of the season, before slipping on the puddly line into the play-off places. Phil Brown's team - Ooo! Hull! Singing! No sleazy goatee these days! - had suffered multiple play-off crapiness and were probably right spoiling for a fight.

Walking up Wembley Way under a wan sky towards the arch we can see from our South London flat, I was reminded of something I hadn't missed one bit: the inane laddishness of it all. No matter that there were perhaps one girl in eight amongst the hordes, and kids, too; the overriding feel was of a filmy, boorish blokiness that I wasn't too happy to be a part of again. Probably eating a smoked salmon and quinoa salad on the Metropolitan line there whilst reading 'The Goldfinch' didn't help, ah ha ha.
Still, once the match started, it was like riding a bike. A crappy old Danon fold-up with squeaky brakes and a slight lean to the left in the case of WWFC, though Southend were no better. It didn't matter that I didn't know the name of every player, though I tried very hard to memorise them ('Brave? Was that Steve Brave'? No. It wasn't.); those chaps were in the colours with which I had dyed my hair and painted lovingly upon my lily cheeks and therefore I LOVED THEM AND THEY MUST WIN. So I added my excitable yelp to the - admittedly extremely unvociferous, in typical WWFC style - singing, and pretty quickly picked up any new chants, seeing as they mostly went 'Wanderers, Wandererrrs' in a sort of dopey, semi-monotonal tune, whilst leaping up and berate the ref/Southend in uncomely fashion at most available opportunities. I tried to ignore our mascot Bodger, who was looking like even more faded and seedy, like he'd been left in the back of a broom cupboard with a bottle of Tesco Value vodka. It was as if I'd never been away, frankly.

When you're watching football in an international stadium, it's easy to assume that the match will be spankingly glossy and fast-paced and of international standard, just like Eng - oh well, you know what I mean. But no. This was like going to the National Theatre to watch an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls, or to the Royal Albert Hall to see a band of thirteen year-olds with their first electric guitars. This was equivalent to a kickabout in a small local park. Played by seven year-olds. With their hungover dads standing around, shouting at them. For much of the match (distinguishing features: hoofing the ball; missing headers; running extremely slowly; failing to pass to a player on the same side), we were just rubbish. Though we had been preposterously unlucky with Sam Saunders going off injured after (count 'em!) 30 seconds. Southend were also just rubbish, though rather better than us in parts of the match, and with a disallowed goal. My husband Andy (neutral, wanting WWFC to win so I would be cheery), brother Daniel (WWFC all the way, though not a regular supporter) and I distracted ourselves with admiring the full-hipster beard and two-tone boots of one of the Southend subs, and the fuschia-pink-and-purple hues of our goalie Alex Lynch's kit (easily beating Dan Bentley's cataract-inducing tangerine). 
With no goals, it was to Extra Time with us all, and suddenly Wycombe got their game on, doing remarkable things such as HOLDING THE BALL and PASSING THE BALL and NOT BEING SCARED OF THE ACTUAL BALL. We got a set piece - thank god, as clearly this was the only way we'd ever get a goal - and Joe Jacobson tossed it over and Bentley helped it a little more over the line. BOOM! The rest of extra time was mostly ours (though we were utterly awful time-wastrels), the Wycombe fans around actually stood up and opened their mouths, delight falling out, and it was daring to look a little festive. Daniel and I were still biting our fingers, Gaz Ainsworth was getting a little, hhm, demonstrative on the touchline, and one Seasider chucked a ball down in a flagrantly tantrumy rage. It was all very exciting. We were going up. We were almost, just about, practically there, going up. Until, with 24 seconds to go - less last-gasp than the defibrillator actually being unpacked and hauled onto the pitch - Southend's sub Joe Pigott scored.

I'd never actually had this happen before. This saddest Wycombe moment for me was seeing them get relegated at Leyton Orient, but it wasn't a last day of the season shocker. Wembley had traditionally been all quartered-blue joy and jubilation, though it was in the early days of my Wycombe ardour, the last time being when I was a quivering thing of sixteen in the play-off final in 1994. And I hyper-ventilated with our own Boys' Own last-gasps at the best game of all time against Wimbledon in the FA Cup. But this. This was like being punched in the face by football. Not by a football, you realise. By football itself.

I'm currently trying out a digital hearing aid for my mini-me right ear and had thought, what better time to test it out than to get some surround sound football cacophony! Chant-phasing! Actually, I mostly got even more tinny versions of awkward team songs over the tannoy, but the worst thing - the worst thing - was hearing the Southend fans' throats split open the half-second after that ball went in. It would have been better to be half-deaf.

So, penalties, and it was best to start getting my gloomy face on. We had, after all, a sub goalkeeper (Alex Lynch, aged twelve), though he had looked very confident in this match. And many of the boys - Blues favourite, the rugged man-of-men Paul Hayes, Matty 'BBC Journeyman Journo' Bloomfield and others - were hobbling around as if walking on an acre of potatoes. And lo! So it came to pass. Darling little Lynch saved Ben Coker's strike, but Dan Bentley (with impressive distraction tactics that made him look like a shrimp on a daring escape bid from a pan of boiling water) eventually saved Ole Bloomfield's. As the goals stacked up, Daniel's hands began trembling and soon I was too, from knees to teeth, an alarmingly, speedily contagious disease for which there was no cure. 7-6 to them. And then Sam Wood's was deflected away and, ohhh, curses, there was the whole season gone in an instant. We clapped the boys until we could no longer bear the Seasiders' glee, and wandered to Finchely Road to gorge solemnly on Iranian food.

You've got to hand it to Gareth Ainsworth, though. Gareth is the first Wycombe manager that I'd happily go to Zizzi's with for a candlelit dinner. OK, the second. He looks less like Viggo Mortensen in 'Lord of the Rings' and now, with shorter hair and a natty, gangsterish suit, more like Viggo Mortensen in 'Eastern Promises' (ooo, I am now imagining him in that fighty Russian bathhouse scene - you know the one). Um, yes, anyway, what was I saying, yes, Gareth looks like a manager. A manager who cares about Wycombe and can hopefully stay there for a good little while, enough to get us up. Let's say next season.

Stupid punchy football. You pay loads of money only to get pulled into a corner and given a good duffing, left for nearly-dead in a pool of your own filth. And the annoying thing is that, having come back after a hiatus, it only makes me more of it

PS Here's Gareth post-match on BBC Sport. Choice quote: 'At Wycombe Wanderers you're in a family. You're in a family of Zen warriors who will run through brick walls for each other.' Next season: Wycombe Wanderers study with the angrily-laughing, beard-tossing guru from 'Kill Bill 2'!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Semi-Final Memories: Guest Blog for the Two Unfortunates

Alright, I admit it, I haven't been watching much football. Ok, ANY football.

But I wrote a piece for wonderfully erudite League bloggers the Two Unfortunates this week! With Reading in a FA Cup semi-final, it was time to revisit WWFC vs Liverpool, from the delirious 2000/1 season.

Here it is!

Friday, 14 June 2013

My Heroes!

Whilst most footballers will be sunning themselves in various tropical, moneyed parts of the world, 10 of the Wycombe crew take themselves off to Kenya to do voluntary work building classrooms for schools, with all-round good egg Matt Bloomfield leading the selfless boys, spades at the ready. They cooked for the children! They are heroes! Catch a snippet of video here.

Derby, Stevenage and Portsmouth were also out there doing their bit. I'd love to know what Premiership teams are doing something similar... the League RULES!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Gareth Ainsworth As Warrior King

Time for another article for League bloggers Two Unfortunates, who smash together lunk-headed footballers and erudite writing! Here's my latest one, on why Gareth Ainsworth, Wycombe's increasingly estimable manager, is a Legend and a HERO (for God's sake, LOOK at him! he's like a character from Game of Thrones!)

Gareth Ainsworth As Warrior King article

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Movember is the Coolest Month

So, it's come to the end of the month when all the best men show their true colours. They are, of course, divided into those who have done Movember, and those who haven't. It's been a pretty quiet month for it; quite how ALL players aren't doing this to raise the profile of such a worthy cause, I dinnae, but here are the key players this mo'season:

Gareth Ainsworth is now digging his spurs into the sweaty flanks of Wycombe's lumbering collective carthorse, having been made permanent manager; we had some dismal results to kick off, but at least have won the last two in a row, making a dramatic harrumphing leap from relegation zone to 19th. Here's Gareth looking like the heroic, wild-eyed desperado he is and proving that Movember is not all about a few high-profile Prem players.
Peter Crouch wears the month's moustache with a confident mid-century air. Honestly, this man could saunter happily through the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s and feel completely at home. He looks like someone you can trust, whether that is to poach a goal, sort out the sale of your car, or possibly run some sort of sepia-tinged covert spy operation.
Michael Owen, still surely a clean-cut little puppyfaced poppet in most people's eyes, especially as he's had such a blighted career since, looking weirdly adult and sporting what I can confidently testify as a 'Motorhead' (having done extensive online research on the matter). God love him for this outlandish and totally unbashful effort! And apologies for this slightly terrifying, apparently bed-cam update (NB: the rumours that I took this photo personally are completely without foundation).
Special notice goes to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott for their youthful, but totally hopeless, attempts, which remind me of those boys at secondary school who were growing moustaches aged 15. As demonstrated above, you have to be a real man, with at least a hint of face-crag, and look like you've been around the block a few times, to pull this off properly. Theo looks like he's going for an interview at a mobile phone retailer in Carshalton, though Aaron does better with the vibe of a gay Belgian clubber. Good attempt, chaps!

    Friday, 28 September 2012


    The new season. I'd sooner be referring to a dream reunion of the cast of The Wire than talking about the new, or now not-so-new, 2012/13 campaigns, so flimsy has my enthusiasm been so far. It's all the O-/Paralympics' fault: so unexpectedly joyous, so sporting and so surprisingly addictive. Little did I know I'd be hiding behind my fingers at the men's 5000m wheelchair final, sobbing at the long jump, falling in love with Oscar Pistorius, dry-throated at the swimming, and agog at the men's diving finals (hhm, actually, I could've predicted that one...). Not forgetting, of course, the Team GB's ladies football team, all brilliant and honed and beating Brazil, and making me weep at the thought of them being proper role models for girls.

    The resplendence of London's summer sports fantasia shone a light on the top flight's flagrantly-moneyed swagger, and made it look as ugly as hell. Granted, my first attempt to re-engage was with another England international display that was more bland than a milk pie with extra bread sauce, but that massive commitment, energy and loveliness shown by the summer's athletes is just not reflected in the country's big game. It's certainly not down at Adams Park, where now ex-manager Gary Waddock blamed the players for Wycombe's lack of success. On the bright side though, everyone's favourite Blues' hero/gravelly pubrock singer is now in charge!
    But at the moment, the only thing really keeping me going is more Fantasy Football - I'm quite determined to beat all the boys in both my leagues with my tactical nous.

    So, football needs a facelift (and in John Terry's case, perhaps a whole heart/head-lift). Solutions are obvious:
    1) Women's football EVERYWHERE
    2) Top-flight players to become ambassadors for charities - ALL players!
    3) Cap salaries, natch
    4) A footballer's choir! YES. Gareth Malone, this is your next series!!
    5) There's only one clear solution to rescue the increasingly doldrum-tastic MOTD, now that Lee Dixon has SHOCKINGLY decamped to the cheap-suited salesman vibes of ITV. Here she is:
    Just imagine that it's the Emirates behind her. I've got tingles!

    Tuesday, 25 September 2012

    What (And Who) Next For Wycombe?

    So it's about turn again for Wycombe, after the sacking of Gary 'the Wadfather' Waddock... I've done an reaction piece for eminent League bloggers The Two Unfortunates here!