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.”
“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.