One of the very few constants in my life has been that, at about 5.00 p.m. on a Saturday, I hear (or see) the football results. Since I’m not a really rabid football fan, although a common-and-garden supporter of Sunderland football club, since that’s what is printed on my birth certificate (did you not know that, in the North-East, there is a separate column for these things?), and therefore a congenital depressive, it is obviously just a comfort to listen to (say) the Scottish League Two results, or even the Welsh results, to hear the announcer’s pleasure when he says ‘Caersws’. I actually think there is a kind of poetry in them – after all, many of the names will have been chosen for their euphony – comparable to the places in the shipping forecast, which Carol Ann Duffy nicked for one of her most-loved poems. The litany of names is soothing.
Actually, something is going a bit wrong with Sunderland FC for this stage of the season, which is that they are scoring goals, winning games, and failing to be put out of the Carling Cup (aka League Cup) at the earliest opportunity. This is very nearly unheard of.
When I was about eight, and sent to a boarding-school, the football results were about the only television allowed (the teachers being addicts to the football pools), so we were – I don’t remember there being any choice – parked in front of what was then ‘Grandstand’, and encouraged to keep quiet. The television was actually projected on to a screen (this was 1960 – projecting TV images might seem to be a more modern invention, but not so, the machine which projected it didn’t look in the least new). I would sigh inwardly as the ‘second’ teams, i.e. those which were not Sunderland, and it does seem to be an odd tradition that a football fan has a couple of irrational ‘second’ teams up the sleeve, either drew or lost.
My second teams were Mansfield and West Bromwich Albion. At the time, I had no idea at all where either West Brom or Mansfield were (and I don’t think even now I’ve visited either). I think, liking words as I do, that I was drawn to the apparently poetic way in which teams added Rangers or Orient or Wanderers or Rovers or Athletic and so on to their places of origin. Rather as I knew all the capital cities and flags of the world, the sort of thing one was obliged by teachers to recite, I think I knew all the crests and grounds and nicknames, too, although, as with my ability to calculate troyweight (because it was printed on the back of exercise books) and furlongs, most of that knowledge has now been deep-sixed by my brain.
Moving to the South-West in 1973, to a part of the world where football fever is not a communicable disease, probably helped diminish my attention to detail. But I still wait for that slight rise or fall in the announcer’s voice (has there ever been a woman reader of the results? If so, rarely – it’s one of those odd bastions), whereby the sound of the first team to be read tells you whether it has won or lost or drawn, and I still enjoy the sound of the words rushing by.