On every other Boxing Day, for many years, I enjoyed, pretty well more than just about anything over the Christmas period, the usually bi-annual football match between Bristol Rovers and another team. No matter what Santa brought, the football match would rise above everything else. In 2006, when I took the ‘wrong’ side in an argument about the future of the club, I started to fall out of love with the club. No matter how hard I tried to sustain the illusion that I still loved it, after over 40 years, I had to admit the inevitable. My love had gone and it wasn’t ever going to come back.
That’s politics in football for you, trying to make a football club better in every way takes you into a different place. When the fan should concentrate on supporting the team, I wanted to support and improve the club. Big mistake. So today, when Rovers entertain whoever it is they are entertaining today (I genuinely don’t know), I do not want to be there and I won’t be there.
I miss everything about the match, whether it’s on Boxing Day or not, except the match itself. Most of all, I miss long time friends, many of whom I met through Bristol Rovers, as well as even longer time friends whose friendship goes back to childhood. I miss the pre-match preview and beers, the pasty, the post match post mortem and more beers. Life will never be the same and to be honest, I don’t want it to be.
I had long reached obsession levels with the Rovers and many waking hours and not a few nighttime hours were consumed with my team, my club. If I wasn’t going to games, I’d be on internet forums, I’d be attending fund-raising events and, for much of the time when I talked to friends, football would be, if not the only, the main topic. This, I do not miss.
As I fell out of love with my club, I became more sensitive towards things like chanting and abuse. When Neil Harris was Millwall manager, a man close to me chose to shout abuse about the testicular cancer Harris had suffered. “Harris – you’re a fucking Eunuch,” he yelled. And even the more ‘playful’ chanting to an injured opposition player – “let him die, let him die, let him die” – saw me overreacting, as I did when Rovers fans sang that “the only good City fan is one that’s dead”. In my new, out-of-love-with-Rovers state, I took it all literally and I took it all personally. The irony was that in years past, I had happily joined in myself and clearly not meant it. At every game, I became aware that I was waiting to be offended in order to justify my changing attitude. It was all someone else’s fault. But it wasn’t. It was me who had changed.
Bristol Rovers is the same club it ever was, although these days owned and run by, in my opinion, people with no real affinity for the club. They rack up huge, record losses, which you would feel might one day need to be paid back. That, rather than whether we needed a new centre half or goalscorer, was occupying my mind. I realised, slowly but surely, that everyone around me, everyone who went to the game, did not give a toss about off-the-field issues. They would take care of themselves. I was the odd one out, it would be for the best if I moved on. So, I did.
I had some great years at BRFC, watching, helping and writing for the club, but those days are gone forever, over a long time ago. I never believed it was possible to fall out of love with your team, but I have and after nearly 14 years I know that love won’t be coming back.
There is no replacement team for me to support. I’m not capable of abandoning Rovers and choosing to support another club. That, to me, is not how it works and it’s completely impossible.
Boxing Day is for other things now and finally, after a lot of soul-searching, I’m at peace with my footballing self. I can’t forgive nor forget those who dumped on me, having axed me from the programme for which I wrote a column, and the local newspaper for which I also wrote a column, the latter being, I naively believed, the blocking of a pathway that could have led to better writing opportunities. Rightly or wrongly, and I suspect it is the latter, I saw it as the destruction of my embryonic writing career. In the end, it may have been the final nail in the coffin for my love for the club.
Supporting a team means going to games and I am no longer a supporter, just someone who likes some teams far more than others. As a supporter, it was Rovers or no-one. You don’t choose your club. Your club chooses you.