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 back Football Hobo’s Alan Smithy back to our pages this evening for the fourth 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 Soldier.

Honour and betrayal – bedfellows of chairmen and their managers, and favourite themes recurring in the works of the Bard. And while he may not have been able to imagine the intrigue and double dealings of modern day football, the course of boardroom affairs never did run smooth. And what of the modern day chairmen? Their love lies in their purses, while Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce and those other unfortunates on the merry-go-round might rightly think that they were more sinned against than sinning in this winter of  managerial discontent.

I reckon Shakespeare could’ve knocked out a decent football play if he were around today, but perhaps he was more prescient about the beautiful game than we give him credit for. If you take one of his most famous soliloquys and look at it slightly sideways, 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”

Jaques introduces the fourth age:

“Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.”

The fourth age gives us the soldier. Any good army relies on the commitment and ability of its soldiers, and the travelling armies of fans up and down the country each weekend are full of them. It’s in the fourth age, early adulthood, that you march most and are sudden and quick in defence of your team. This is when match going truly kicks in for the majority of us, and where just about nothing else matters. We’ve grown up, it’s all about the away days with the lads, and therefore do give ourselves to barbarous licence; as ’tis ever common that men are merriest when they are from home.

We spend the best part of our lives, and the vast majority of our wage packets (or dole money) on following our chosen team. Free and unfettered by commitments like mortgages, pensions, wives or children, which all seem so very far away, we live out our dreams every Saturday. The days at work drag. You spend as much time as is allowed on the company’s internet, chatting away on forums, arranging meet-ups and pubs for the coming weekend’s fixture (or, alternatively, cursing those of your mates who’ve got cushy office jobs that allow them to seemingly prat around all day on the PC while you slog your guts out). In the age of the soldier we are the embodiment of living for the weekend.

Oh, the things you can get away with. How many of us have pulled sickies from work to get to that long-distance midweek cup tie that, even though we expect to lose, we still need to attend? Who hasn’t looked at their paycheque at season ticket renewal time and worked out what’ll be left after the most important expenditure of the year? Gas, electric, council tax and food are all over-rated, non-essentials after all, aren’t they?

We haven’t got a care in the world – the days of playing are long behind (most of) us, and our focus now is on vicariously living out our dreams through the eleven men on the pitch. We can’t all give up that dream of playing, as the sweaty bodies and heaving lungs on five-a-side courts up and down the land on a weekly basis will testify. Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?

In previous ages you had a ready-made circle of friends; your mates at school that you saw every day, and with whom you shared the most. As you grow older, those with whom you share your experiences move from people you see every day to those you see at the most only once a week. Your match day ‘family’ has many members, of all shapes and sizes. There’s that fella who you spoke to once at the game a few years ago whose name you can’t remember but who you still acknowledge every time you see him like some long-forgotten uncle. The guy who sits behind your season ticket spec with whom you exchange a few pleasant words every other week is like a sort of cousin – you’re not too fussed when you don’t see him for a long period in the summer, but it’s nice to make his acquaintance once again every August. And then there are your brothers, your closest blood relatives, with whom you travel everywhere, share everything, and have that unspoken code of understanding.

For some of us, the age of the soldier is taken a little too literally, but you’ll be grateful to have that particular band of brothers to rely on when you get into a scrap. But whether you choose to fight for or follow your side through the fourth age, that undoubted rush of adrenaline will never leave you. It’s hard to believe that any age of fan could ever match up to this.

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