As some of you will already be aware, for the next few weeks Monday night is now literature night here on Twohundredpercent. We are delighted to welcome Football Hobo’s Alan Smithy back to our pages this evening for the fifth act of his seven part epic which traces the life of the football supporter in relation to the celebrated monologue from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, which is better known as “The Seven Ages Of Man”, or “All The World’s A Stage”. This evening: The Justice.

Disappointment and frustration pervade a number of Shakespeare’s greatest works in much the same way as they litter the path of the football fan. A prolonged losing run that seems never ending can result in a winter of discontent for us all, and yet we continue to throw ourselves willing into the breach each week and carry on supporting our side regardless, like fortune’s fools. Would life not be A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich if you could just win a game?

I reckon Shakespeare would’ve been more than able to pen (or should that be quill?) a decent play about footie if he were around today, but perhaps he was more prescient about football than we give him credit for. If you take one of his most famous soliloquys and squint ever so slightly while reading it, you might find that it was written about us fans all along.

I’m referring, of course, to Jaques in Act II, Scene VII of As You Like It, and his seven ages of fan.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Jacques introduces us to the fifth age:

And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.

In a way, the fifth age of fan is that of the greatest contrasts, as well as one of transition. It’s the time that you realise something that would’ve seemed totally incongruous in previous ages: sometimes there are more important things than football. Slowly but surely, you have to face up to the inevitable march of time, and something that you’ve been putting off since you were a child. You have to grow up.

It’s something that creeps up on you, too; it’s hard to pinpoint the exact time you join the fifth agers. In the age of the soldier it’s all brothers in arms, friendships that will last forever and the unimaginable prospect that you could possibly do something else with your Saturdays and Sundays. You scoff at the poor cuckolded men being dragged round IKEA while you’re having the time of your life. Perhaps you get complacent, and miss the subtle changes. As friends and family begin to get married, have children and foist weddings and christenings upon you, you start to miss the odd match.

You curse your non-footballing acquaintances for having the temerity to get married in the football season. At least your matchgoing mates have got it sorted and only get married in alternate summers when there’s no Euros or World Cups to contend with. But not everyone is so reliable. You console yourself with the fact that it’s just one Saturday that you’ll be missing, and that the reception venue will almost certainly have a TV somewhere for you to keep up with the scores. Either that or you’ll just have to resort to checking your iPhone subtly throughout the service; unless of course you’re the best man. Sweet recreation barr’d, what doth ensue but moody and dull melancholy.

Such isolated days of festivity are only the beginning, however. Your friends begin to drift away, one by one, swallowed by the demands of wives, children, careers or money worries, and things suddenly seem a lot more serious. From giving everything up for the match, you realise that almost everything else is more important. There are competing calls on your time and your purse, and the cynic inside you grows ever stronger – you begin to question the value in paying ever increasing sums of cash to watch a procession of badge-kissing players earning vast sums of money who ultimately serve only to disappoint you and move away. You begin to rationalise your support. A dangerous step.

You also come across another one of life’s inevitabilities – you can’t quite take the all-day sessions as you used to be able to, and recovery time takes that little bit longer. That quaffing and drinking will undo you. It’s a sorry state of affairs when you fear the question “did you see the game at the weekend?” For the first time in your life not only are you unable to answer with a blow-by-blow account from the terraces, but as you progress through the fifth age you’re in danger of missing your first game completely. Having looked down for your whole match going life on johhny-come-latelys and teletext-reds, those fans who occasionally watch Match of the Day and pick up their views from Sky Sports and the Monday papers, you‘re in danger of becoming one. You’ve turned into that worst sort of supporter, you don’t know quite how, and it cuts you deep. You cling to the fact that you used to be a regular match goer and that somehow you’re owed the odd game off, but the longer it goes on, the hollower that claim sounds.

But there is always some hope. This age of transition isn’t quite yet complete, as the depressing parabola starts to begin its upward turn just before the end of the fifth age. It’s not all such a negative picture, as you are already re-discovering the football bug. The passion may still be burning strong while the flame of fandom flickers, but through the private joy of having your own children you vicariously become engaged with the beautiful game again. All those shared experiences and stories not yet written reinvigorate your footballing soul as you begin to rekindle your interest against all sense.

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