On Football

Football, the American version that is mostly played with the hands, first came to the UK via Channel 4, Britain’s fourth terrestrial television channel. I was young and fascinated by the hour a week we saw this most American of sports.

In one hour, interrupted by ads, we saw all the action from the NFL from that week, condensed into a tight, thrilling package. American football was amazing – so fast, so aggressive. Like rugby, of course, but – to my eyes – much easier to understand. The lines on the field, the positions of the players. It all made sense.

At school, my friends and I professed our new-found love for what looked to be the greatest sport of all time. I chose a team – the Chicago Bears – and settled happily into my new life as an American Football Fan.

And then came the Super Bowl.

It was shown live on UK TV at some god-awful time in the early morning. I had school the next day, so there was no way I was going to be allowed to stay up to see it. I was devastated, until the next morning when my friends reported in.

It went on for hours, they said. It was…whisper it…really boring.

Once we got to see the full, unedited version, I think casual English fans started to drop away. Sure, cricket goes on for five days, but something is happening almost all the time. And when there’s a break, there’s enough time to have a drink or even a full meal.

The stop-start nature of American football and baseball is against everything Europeans like about sport. They don’t stand much of a chance outside the culture in which they were born. The competition is too fierce.

The most popular spectator sport in the world is football, the kind that is mostly played with the feet.

My love of what we are contractually obliged to call “the beautiful game” started at the age of six. It was 1978 and the World Cup was happening in Argentina. My dad and middle brother were entrenched in front of the TV and I wanted to be part of it. “You have to support a team,” they said. And I, not knowing anything about football, chose the first team I could think of that played in my favorite color – Liverpool, The Reds.

As the most successful team in the country at the time, I would be familiar with them on the TV. They were an obvious choice. My brother called me a “glory hunter” – and for the next 12 years or so, there was much glory to be found.

At least, that’s the story I’ve created in my head and the one I believe. But, looking back, I’m not convinced that’s how it happened. Liverpool don’t play in the World Cup – that’s for countries. England would be my World Cup team (and maybe a little Brazil…).

So, who knows when I started to follow Liverpool? Without another side to the story, I’m sticking to my World Cup legend. I know I briefly wavered – the skills and glamour of Glenn Hoddle made Spurs an enticing prospect in my teens – but my dad was very clear: once chosen, a team cannot be unchosen.

And here’s the thing about my family’s football support – we’ve all been glory hunters.

My dad was a Leeds fan, as much as he was a fan of any team – he grew up in the days of the great (and greatly dirty) Leeds side of the 60s. My oldest brother was attracted to the glamour and the glory of the Chelsea sides of the late 60s and early 70s. Middle brother, so very on-brand, chose Sunderland, winners of one cup in the early 70s and then nothing much to crow about since.

So, my choice of Liverpool was very much in the family tradition. No one chose the local team of Newcastle.

Among all the other wonderful things it represents, the birth of my oldest son in 1990 brought a dark dark time – his birth seemed to curse Liverpool. After being the dominant league force for the previous 20 years or so, Liverpool somehow lost the ability to win the league title. Years blurred together, but the curse held strong. For 30 years, Liverpool have failed to win the English league title. But apparently 30 years is the length of time my son’s curse will last, because this year they are so far ahead of the pack that it feels like they’re collecting points for next season, too.

This year, Liverpool’s dark league days come to an end. And my glory hunting can begin again.

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