‘Whatever else might be said about him- and there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for Human- he is a goddamn stone fanatic on every facet of pro football.’ – Hunter S. Thompson on Mr Watergate himself, Richard Milhous Nixon.
Unlike Thompson critiqued about Nixon, my Dad’s mother, our Nana, was very human. However she was certainly one of a kind. If she’d ever described herself she’d probably have said ‘a bit of a funny osity’ But boy, did she have loads of friends. It usually took her about two whole weeks to reply to all the Christmas cards she got; festooned they were by a nylon cord from one end of the living room to the other.
I say different because she did things like one Christmas morning, not long after sitting and passing her driving test at the age of 59, she announced she was going out for a drive to Papakura, on the southern edge boundary of greater Auckland to see some friends. Explaining that she would be back in time to help prepare a later than usual Christmas dinner, she set out in earnest. 1 o’clock came and long went and still no sign of the intrepid driver. She finally returned frazzled and weary in the late afternoon. It turned out she had missed the Papakura exit and driven another 50 or so kilometres to Huntly trying to figure out an exit to turn back north! She did manage to find the friend’s place in Papakura in spite of the inordinately long detour. On the bright side, at least she turned around before Taupo.
I give you this background because when she took something on she usually followed through with an absolute passion and dedication. And such was her support of the Auckland Rugby team during their record tenure with the Ranfurly Shield from 1985-1993. She certainly didn’t attend as many of the games as Dad and I (and thank goodness; that would’ve been way too tiring for everybody, and I’m not just talking about us here, either). But the times she was there she was certainly easy to notice with her shrill voice, tiny stature and blue and white pom-pom hat. And all this on the Eastern Terraces- the terraces of beer can clanking cricketing fame in the guise of the ‘Hadlee’ chant.
Came the day though in 1988 when she almost had her terrace membership revoked when Canterbury came to challenge. She got her wires crossed and accidentally (I think) cheered when the red and blacks crossed the paint. ‘I think we’d better change seats’, I said, ‘our lives could be in danger.’ But those around only burst out laughing. No harm done!
On another occasion in 1987 versus Waikato, my Grandad had miraculously left the sanctity of his armchair or tending to his garden to join us. It as a fact that Nana always walked like she had somewhere to be pretty urgently. The upshot was we walked the twenty minutes to Eden Park after parking the car with her 70 metres ahead up the road like Speedy Gonzales and Grandad about 30 metres adrift of Dad and I. He was the polar opposite of her. You half expected him to bunk off for a sneaky cigarette. When we finally reached the gate she exclaimed ‘That man couldn’t get a move on if his underpants were on fire.’ That line was comedy gold. Some great memories of family days, daytime starts and a packed ground.
There exists as well another type of sports follower. Let’s refer to him (or her) as the over-enthusiastic, extremely one-eyed species of spectator, or to give their proper anthropologic name: ‘Cyclopus zealotus’. They are the person who takes their level of support in their sport just that bit too far- to the point whereby it could be hazardous to their own health, or the well-being of their brow-beaten accomplices.
The following is about such a person. It resonates with humour because it it explores the frailities of being human- which is an extremely relatable scenario. A scenario that is bound to be a reference for someone we know well or have at least come across.
The writing is in the form of an anecdote from the Matchday programme of the Ireland vs Scotland Five Nations Rugby encounter back in 1980. It was written by Niall Fallon. Here is the main gist :
‘For the first time ever, the Brother and meself arrived VERY early at Lansdowne Road, a good hour before kick-off. Now the Brother, cherfully ignoring the fact that he has never in his life kicked a rugby ball and who to this day couldn’t tell you the difference between a maul and a ruck (and he’s not alone there, I can tell you), fancies himself as an Expert. He has, I’ll admit, all the attributes of one- total disagreement with everyone else, especially with selectors; a constant readiness to voice his opinion whether asked or not; a voice like a maddened elephant both in support and denigration; and all of this bound together with a fervent wish to see the opposition drop dead…Indeed, it’s in places like these that the Brother finds his cultural home.
‘Who’ll we barrack today?’ says he to me. Before I can answer, a roar from the crowd, half submerged by boos, whistles and catcalls, signals the arrival on the field of fifteen Scotsmen, all about fifteen feet high and weighing just under a ton a man.
‘Who’s yer man with the bald head?’ queries the Brother.
I peer at the programme. ‘Robson,’ says I.
‘Right,’ says the Brother, ‘He’ll do.’ He lets an unmerciful roar out of him. ‘Hey, Robson, you baldy bastard,’ he bawls.
Now he had picked that instant in time when the roar for the Scots had died into the hushed moment when everyone was saving their breath for the big moment when the home lads would trot out…Into this lull of sound the Brother’s bellow shot like an arrow. Robson, the balding target of the shout, turned a menacing glare in our direction and all around disapproving looks were bent on us. ‘Merciful Jasus,’ say I to the Brother, who’s about to open his mouth for further insult; ‘that bloody pack of forwards will come down here and eat us alive.’
But then Ireland trot out and the Brother is forgotten. There are the presentations, the little cermonies, the national anthem; the players run to their places and line up as the ball is kicked off. And the game is on. And Robson, that tough little flanker, plays a blinder. (by Niall Fallon)
And there’s always football to provide a fair share of eccentrics. Middlesborough fan Harry Pearson talks of his days following his team in 1990/91 whilst broke and living alone in London. He could only afford to go along when ‘Boro came to London to play. Here he describes how travelling alone to these fixtures made him a prime target for two particular types of fan. The following is about the second type he encountered:
‘Loonie 2 prefers to strike when you are cornered in a railway carriage, or window seat. He slips in beside you, sniffing and giving off an odour of burgers and Biactol. He has cut off your line of retreat. You are trapped. Shoving him out of he way is impossible- he is wearing so much man-made fibre the static he produces could power an arc-welder; touching him would be like shoving your finger in a socket. He rummages in his carrier bag and pulls out his packed lunch. This consists of Wonderloaf and meatpaste sandwiches. Meatpaste is made from the off-cuts rejected by dog food manufacturers because they smell too bad. (continued)… He leads you on a five-mile detour so that he can drink cask-conditioned ale so authentic it has splinters in it. Why do you go with him? Why don’t you bolt? Because he has broken your spirit. He has subjected you to the merciless mental torture of interrupting everything you say in order to correct it: actually it was seventeen and a half minutes; actually it was John Mahoney; actually the ground was St Andrew’s. The situation was beginning to grate’. (From ‘My Favourite Year- a collection of new football writing’ published by Witherby, 1993).
We’ve surely all known supporters like ‘The Brother’ and ‘Loonie 2’. And as long as no one literally gets hurt, or the verbal attacks don’t cross the line into threats, malice or get constantly directed at the poor old crash pad, the ref, isn’t all part of the great tapestry of following sport? It just wouldn’t quite be the same without those kinds of characters in our midst. Vive la difference. Most definitely they are a breed apart. And thank goodness.
-Paul Montague (email@example.com)