It occurred to me recently, on a train to London from Colchester following a stunning 5-1 victory for the Dons, why do football fans do it?
This may seem a strange time to have such a thought, given that the Dons are on a magnificent run of form: Saturday’s win over Barnet made it six wins on the bounce, with 23 goals scored during that period; there have certainly been worse times to be following the boys from Buckinghamshire.
Yet, the thought did still occur to me. Here, I was, giving up time I didn’t really have to spare, spending money I didn’t really have to spend and making emotional investments I barely had the strength to make (it’s been a tough year!).
But, the thought of missing the next game, of not booking my train tickets up to Tranmere for next Saturday, of not being there to kick every ball and make every challenge with the players was a horrible thought to me.
I hate missing games. Sometimes it is inevitable, but when it’s not, I’m there. Be it on my own, be it in the rain, I’ll be in the stands, cheering the boys on. It is that sense of excitement, of theatre, of drama, of unpredictability that few other things can match.
It is that sense of community between the fans and the players: we’re all in this together and we all have a part to play. It is a sense of being able to make a difference: my money, my support, my voice can help the club, drive the team on. I can be a small part of a greater good. I remember when the Dons moved to Milton Keynes.
Suddenly, I didn’t have a game on my doorstep every other week. I stopped going to football for a while, the transition an uncomfortable one. Suddenly, supporting my team was not going to be so convenient, but a real sacrifice, both in terms of time and finance.
So, I chose instead to listen to games or follow the results on ‘Soccer Saturday’. A few years down the line, and I made a couple of trips to Milton Keynes, and realised what I had been missing. The atmosphere, the passion, the tension, the reality of the game in front of you, which an afternoon in front of a computer or a television cannot compete with.
This Saturday just gone I went to the FA Cup second round match at Barnet; a draw I was very happy with, given that any game in London is easier to get to than Milton Keynes for me.
I went up on the tube with my Dad and a family friend, who grew up in Barnet, and used to watch the Bees at Underhill as a boy. He reckoned it must have been thirty years or more since he last saw Barnet in action. It was a great day, made better by the result (a 3-1 win and passage to the third round), and the Dons fans were marvellous, turning out in big numbers and singing throughout the match.
On the tube on the way back, with my two older companions having drifted off to sleep, I thought about how football can bring people together; take people to parts of the country they have never visited or have not seen for years; engineer situations where family and friends get a whole day together, that they otherwise would have spent apart.
The life of a football fan is a strange one. It is a commitment undertaken with no guarantee of reward or success. Yet, the benefits, the true benefits, are unquantifiable. And that is why I take my spot in the stands every Saturday, whenever I can, whatever the weather, regardless of the Dons’ form or fortunes, to cheer the team on.
Another blog coming soon: and this time I promise to talk about on-field matters!