By Mark Daniell
Apr 2nd, 2008

It’s dawn on matchday. Through the curtain the weather is dank because the air pressure is low. But that’s the only pressure that’s low, there’s another pressure, a high one, a tenser, more nervous one deep inside: a bladder pressure.

You get up and head to the loo, then you run a shallow bath, cold water first, because it’s matchday. At least that’s what you do if you’re a friend of mine (Arsenal fan) on matchday. His pre-game ritual begins at dawn, which I have to say is impressive. His policy is if the players are to be expected to rough it, to put in the hard work, then so will he. So it’s a cold, shallow bath at dawn.

“Just cold water?”
“Not just cold water, that’d be dangerous, but the cold water goes in first.”
“At dawn?”
“Yeah, well, sometimes, I think. But definitely early.”

I didn’t criticise him, well I did, he was an Arsenal fan, but I didn’t criticise him for his ritual at least. Pre-game rituals are part of the job of being a fan, part of the build up, of the anticipation. If you don’t perform your pre-game ritual you’ll always feel partly responsible for any cock-ups that your team might make. But if you do, well, aren’t you in some small way contributing to the success?

Personally I find a cold bath a bit of an unattractive ritual. I go for the chicken pie with mayo, on the King’s Road. As it happens, I don’t really like mayo with my chicken pies, but when I was first given one, many years ago, it had mayo on, so that’s how it goes. I also get a Curly Wurly for that uneventful mudflat of time between the 60th and the 75th minutes.

I used to have a lucky pair of matchday jeans but one day, after a fine victory, I had to leave my mates in the pub to go home and change because they were too tight and I couldn’t handle the pinch. Of course I couldn’t explain why I had to leave so I made something up. That was a sorry moment in my life, lying to my friends and leaving a victorious pub because my pants were too tight.

Ssometimes that’s what’s expected of you as a fan: commitment; dedication; self-harming. Really I blamed all those chicken pies and it occurred to me with uncomfortable clarity that one of my pre-game rituals would have to go. I binned the jeans.

So, what I’m saying is, you know, these rituals are sometimes forced to change. If Food Fayre has no chicken pies, I’ll mix it up a bit, maybe a samosa, maybe an onion bhaji, (always a Curly Wurly though) and in the same way, I daresay Sean will skip the cold bath if he’s overslept.

But some fans’ rituals never change. No matter the weather or time, when it’s matchday you’ll always hear a heart-warming greeting of “Allo Chelsea” echoing up from our side of Battersea Bridge, said with all the casual expectation of a gonk meeting his regular brass.

To me, that is a fine tradition for a fine club, and unlike the pneumonia-inducing baths or circulation-inhibiting jeans, it’s not doing anyone any harm.

Except, of course, my cousin who lives on the corner of Beaufort Street and Embankment and who is a Spurs fan. So let’s keep it up.

Shed End fans