For the next few weeks, Monday night will be literature night here on Twohundredpercent. We are delighted to welcome Football Hobo’s Alan Smithy back to our pages this evening for the first act, if you will, of a seven part epic that he written for us which traces the life of the football supporter in relation to the celebrated monologue from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” that is best known as “The Seven Ages Of Man”, or “All The World’s A Stage”.

The twisted lives and fickle fate of some of Shakespeare’s greatest characters wouldn’t look out of place alongside the modern day football fan – whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous refereeing decisions or better to sleep, perchance to dream of a good cup run, and all that. Yep, old William was well ahead of his time as far as football fans are concerned.

I reckon that, had he been around today, Shakespeare could have knocked out a belting play about football fans. Perhaps, though, he was more prescient about football than he is given credit for. If you take one of his most famous soliloquys, tilt your head sidewards at it and squint ever so slightly, 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 first:

At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms

It might not have struck you before just how important your early years are in setting you up for life as a football fan. We all have early memories of kicking a ball around a living room or garden, or maybe playing on the playground for the first time. We can all recall when we attended our first match. But football fandom is entrenched a good deal earlier than any of that.

You might not have known it at the time, but I’d wager one of the first words you understood on some level (after Mum and Dad and obvious ones like that) was ‘goal’. That’s right, the first age of fan is set well before you can dribble (or, indeed, while you’re still dribbling) – it’s all about your formative first two years. You see, being a football fan is something that seeps almost subconsciously in to your new-born mind through a form of Jeff Stelling-facilitated osmosis. Not that your parents set you down in front of Soccer Saturday as some form of  implicit education, but by the time most of us reach the age of two we’re already more adept at pronouncing most players’ names than Paul Merson is.

Regardless of your age you’re bound to pick up on peoples’ moods; and as babies we’re much more perceptive than people give us credit for. You’ll get taught to love red over blue (or stripes over hoops, or however your particular local rivalry manifests itself), and from the age that you first start talking and parroting those around you you can be sure that someone will get you to repeat the name of a favourite player, or to curse your local rivals. You have no idea what the sounds mean, of course, but repeating them delights those around you. A happy daddy leads to a happy baby, after all.

Should you be first in line and male, the die of football fandom is usually already cast before you even enter the world. It‘s a foregone conclusion. There is no question – the indoctrination and pressure to follow this particular passion is immense. If that weren’t the case clubs wouldn’t do a roaring trade in football kits that’d look snug on Sooty, while market stall owners would have to find a new product to replace all those ‘Daddy’s best little dribbler’ bibs, and all that other footie tat.

These days it’s more likely that there will be competing attentions for the new-born fan. Mother and father, or sometimes competing uncles and family friends will be quick to vie for the new offspring’s sporting affections. It’s not unknown for youngsters to be bought a number of shirts, bibs and other footballing ephemera to sway them one way or the other. On the face of it, of course, the whole thing is ridiculous, and only adds to the rampant commercialism already associated with modern football. But what price can you put on a lifetime of sporting involvement?

The pride in knowing that you got your nephew following the Blues instead of the Reds will live with you for a lifetime, and will lead to countless shared experiences. For every new convert, the chance of spreading the line of your particular club further down the family tree continues, like the acceptable face of some form of cult. Rather than ask yourself how you started supporting whichever team it is, though, perhaps you would be better off asking yourself whether you ever stood a chance in the first place. Regardless of when your first memories indicated you started following football, though, the seeds were sown much earlier – the first of the seven ages of fan is that of the infant, and that is the true beginning of our end.

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