Matt Johnson is a friendly fellow with, as you will shortly find out, awesome social skills. Lately, however, he has found himself wondering whether the football supporters that he approaches and talks to on trains share his enthusiasm for chewing the cud on the subject of the national game with people he’s never met before. Matt can be found on Twitter here. If you follow him, there’s a good chance that he will follow you back. And talk to you.
“So who were your club playing today?” is a question that shouldn’t appear to present many problems to a football supporter. My awesome social skills have always led me towards this belief because in the past they have led to meeting very many pleasant football fans. I always suspected there was a fraternity of football fandom. A Brotherhood of Fans. You could see it in the way people looked, the way that they talked to each other and, occasionally the way that they glared at me, but I didn’t have the confidence to use my awesome, albeit embryonic, social skills to back up my suspicions.
Since I gained the confidence to use my awesome social skills I have been able to see the “Brotherhood of Football Fans” with my own eyes. I finally saw the common act that linked us all; visiting football grounds. I finally felt part of the “Brotherhood”. For last few years I’ve travelled to away matches feeling protected by this idea. I never saw barriers to conversation or fraternisation, I only saw The Brotherhood. At the same time other people, because they’re also in The Brotherhood, knew instinctively that I didn’t want to debate the obvious problems of Conservative economic stewardship or other more taxing matters. I just wanted a pleasant conversation to pass the time.
I saw nothing to dissuade me that I was a part of The Brotherhood. For example, a few years ago I was on a train to the Welsh Cup final in Llanelli via Crewe. Due to my position as Bangor City’s merchandise supremo I was accompanied by large bag of merchandise and a gross of Blue and white chequered flags. Two people saw me, I saw them. We saw that we had that common football fan look. The unspoken uniform of The Brotherhood. Thanks to our mutual connection I soon found out that they were both Tranmere fans, and I even found from out brief conversation out that one of them went to matches with the lead singer from Half Man Half Biscuit.
That is just one example, though. Over the years I’ve conversed with fans of Cardiff City, Merthyr Tydfil, Spurs, Chester City, Swindon Town, Swansea City, Wrexham, Shrewsbury Town, Port Talbot, Llanelli, Stoke City, Celtic, Motherwell, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Scotland, Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday, Heerenveen and Rapid Vienna. It wasn’t difficult to form conversations. We all had that bond. Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve started to think that I may have been living under misapprehensions. I suppose this is the trouble when assumptions are made, and boy have I made assumptions! I have assumed that when people are wearing a football scarf/replica shirt/limited edition polo shirt on public transport they were advertising their allegiances. I thought this meant they were practically begging for a conversation. I attempted to rationalise the situation. Why would they wear such ostentatious symbols of identification if they didn’t wanted to be disturbed from their copy of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt?
The first event that shook me happened about three weeks ago, when my new wife and I were on our esoteric honeymoon in York. We happened to be staying around the corner from Bootham Crescent so I decided to go and have a look. My wife had a crush on York City’s Jamie Reed when he was a Bangor City so my visit would also allow me to see if I could pick up a Jamie Reed fridge magnet as a late wedding present. Result! I got to Bootham Crescent to find a delightful traditional football ground with a club shop that was shut. Alas no fridge magnet! There was a fans’ coach going to Alfreton for an Easter Monday match outside the main gates, though. I spotted one bloke, strode up to him and asked, “How’s Jamie Reed doing?” The man looked a little worried so I qualified the question; “Don’t worry I’m a Bangor fan, I was just wondering!!!!!!” He replied by saying, “Well we all like him because he scores when he plays but the manager doesn’t seem to like him.” I turned to ask another question but the words had evaporated in my mouth, the bloody bloke had turned away from me. I watched him walk up the steps of the coach. I was dumbfounded.
I put this stilted conversation down to the tangible anti-Welsh prejudice of twenty-first century Britain and tried not to fret about it too much. It was nothing. NOTHING. It was NOTHING, OKAY? I laughed it off as I walked back to my hotel. I continued laughing it off in the shower the following morning, in the Jorvik centre, on the city walls and in the York Castle Museum. I carrying laughed it off over our evening meal in the Italian restaurant with the pushy owner. It was nothing. NOTHING, and I certainly wasn’t going to let this ruin my honeymoon. I mean, quite asides from anything else the guy was bald – what does his opinion matter anyway? How dare he metaphorically cast aspirations upon my awesome social skills? Then the events of last Saturday unfurled, then I couldn’t laugh things off so easily any more.
At around about ten past six last Saturday evening I was on a train travelling between Preston and Warrington when I noticed that the bloke across the aisle from me was wearing a green and black scarf. I surmised that he had to be a Plymouth fan. Two pieces of evidence backed up this belief. Firstly, he was also wearing a green tie with black stripes (or was it a black tie with green stripes?). Secondly, earlier in the day I’d noticed a married couple in retro Plymouth shirts on a Warrington Bank Quay platform. When I noticed that he was holding the Guardian I thought I was on an easy wicket for a football conversation. I tried to think of a safe question to get the ball rolling – even though we’re all brethren you never want to look uncool or clueless when asking questions. Knowing that the train had stopped in Carlisle before it stopped in Preston I decided this question would do:
Me; “So did Plymouth play Carlisle today?”
Him; “No we played Morecambe… OKAY?”
The smug firmness of his reply, the smug steeliness on his face, and most importantly, the smug gap between the last two words he uttered told me that any hopes of a conversation were forlorn. The irritatingly “liberal” yet judgmental journalists writing for the Guardian’s magazine were obviously far more interesting than me. I was a broken man. I refuse to believe that the “Brotherhood of Football Fans” contains people that are so unwilling to have simple conversations they actually want to look smug about their lack of awesome social skills. This can only mean one thing. Perhaps my awesome social skills aren’t quite as awesome as I thought they were. I’ve heard that looking through train windows in mute appreciation of the grey, British countryside is the new rock & roll anyway, so I’m okay with this.
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