Heather's Monthly Articles

A Proper Football Match

May 2019

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It’s hard to believe, but until recently I’d only ever attended one football match. That’s football as in the circular ball with a two-and-a-half-foot circumference.

That one and only match was when the U.S. played Brazil at Stanford on Independence Day in the 1994 World Cup. They lost to the eventual champions Brazil 1-0, but it was an experience even a non-football fan like myself could appreciate. Last month, a quarter of a century later, while visiting my birthplace, Sheffield in Yorkshire, I attended my second match and while there may have been no fireworks, it was every bit as special.

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Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, April 2019

 

The City of Sheffield has two football teams – Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. Nicknamed The Blades, for Sheffield’s steel industry, and The Owls, for the area of the city which houses Hillsborough Stadium where Wednesday has played since 1899. Both teams originated in the 1800s as cricket clubs. The Owls, who adapted the name Wednesday as that was the day on which they played their matches, is the slightly older of the two teams, having been formed in 1867. The Blades were formed in 1889 and since then have played all of their home games in the same stadium at Bramall Lane.

The differences between a football match and a football - of the elongated eleven-inch-long brown rubber variety – game are many. In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common is the word “football.”

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Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, April 2019

 

A football match is all about the game. It lasts 90 minutes, with additional time being added onto each 45-minute half for injuries and stoppages and a 15-minute break midway through the match. There are no distractions such as cheerleaders, or big oversized mascots running around the pitch. And no stopping the action every so often to fit in a commercial break.

The crowd's eyes rarely deviate from the action on the field – so no need for a jumbotron showing bits of trivia or of couples kissing. Not that there’s no kissing or displays of affection happening in a British football stadium. The difference is, it’s saved for when a goal has been scored. Then the players leap into each others arms, hugging and kissing each other like long-lost sweethearts. The crowds follow suit.

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Goooooooooooal!

 

The sight of grown men hugging and kissing warmed my heart better than the hot tea available for purchase from the concessions window. They sell beer too, but you can only drink it on the concourse. So the singing, cheering and general state of euphoria can’t be ascribed to the effects of alcohol, but of passion for the game and a bonding ritual going back generations.

I’ll have more on my long-overdue attendance at a British football match next month, including tailgating (or lack of), the tragedy associated with Hillsborough, and why I was glad I wore my burgundy coat.

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