‘We hate Tottenham!’ If they had shouted it once they had shouted it 100 times. I wasn’t sure why, as we were watching Chelsea v. Basel. But I knew enough about a girl’s place at a football match not to turn to my male companion and ask what would no doubt turn out to be a stupid question.
I love going to Stamford Bridge, just every now and then, you understand. I know nothing about any of it. I have never claimed to understand the offside rule. But every so often, when a male friend invites me, I dust off my Chelsea shirt. I find the action on and off the pitch affords one the most fascinating glimpse into human behaviour.
In the past, I have had to sit in the corporate seats because that is where the ex-broker boyfriend always sat. I would grin and bear it but it wasn’t up to much. Tired businessmen in suits used to walk out after 20 minutes if they thought the game wasn’t going their way. Now the broker boyfriend is long gone and I get brought to games by a friend who has season tickets for the Matthew Harding Stand.
This is more like it. It is frowned upon here even to sit down. At kick-off, an enormous flag gets passed back, covering about a hundred heads at a time. When we disappeared under it, I suppressed the urge to complain about claustrophobia. ‘Also,’ I wanted to say, but didn’t, ‘this is obscuring my view quite a bit.’ But the flag passed over eventually and we could see the pitch again. And before long, all the men around me were shouting comments I didn’t understand. ‘Poor ball!’ yelled my friend. ‘Poor!’ I shouted. ‘Oh great ball!’ he yelled a few minutes later. ‘Great ball!’ I agreed.
Every time a player from the opposite side fell down we had to yell ‘Get up, you (insert insult)!’ Every time one of ours fell down we had to shout: ‘Book him!’ ‘Book him!’ I yelled. I think I would have yelled ‘Hang him!’ or ‘Crucifixion!’ or ‘Release Roger!’ if that was what the others were yelling.
In the seat behind me, another girl was not doing so well: ‘Why do we keep shouting, we hate Tottenham?’ she asked. Her boyfriend and the man standing next to him burst out laughing. ‘Well, it’s not obvious, is it?’ she persevered. ‘I mean, I don’t have the context.’ But the men were laughing too much to explain.
In the aisle opposite, another girl, dressed up to the nines in skinny jeans and sparkly flip-flops, was clutching a latte and a Chelsea gift shop bag containing her number eight shirt for the next time her boyfriend brought her (a little presumptuous given what unfolded). It was only a matter of time…Ooops, there goes the latte, all over a fan pushing past her to get to his seat. The boyfriend looked at her in despair.
The ball bobbed about the pitch and the fans started to sing the two words ‘José Mourinho!’ to the tune of ‘La Donna E Mobile’. The scansion worked very well. Less successful, in that respect, was a rendition of ‘Da-ball, da-ball, da-ball! John Terry has won the da-ball!’ (sic), as in double, to the tune of ‘The Entertainer’.
I wanted to ask my companion, but didn’t: ‘Who decides what chants go with what piece of music?’ Clearly, they needed to promote the guy who had brought in the Verdi and rely a little less on the Scott Joplin fancier. ‘Come on, Nando!’ yelled my friend, reminding me I could do with some flame-grilled chicken with coleslaw. But that wasn’t the point. Fernando Torres had been making insufficient efforts to score. Swearing ensued.
The small boy in front of me looked round every time he heard a bad word, as did his mother, who tutted. You could see the cogs in his little brain turning. He puffed himself up and put his hands on his hips the way the men were doing. It was very moving, like watching a baby lion learn to hunt.
Torres, in a protective face mask which made him look like a dejected phantom of the opera, continued to labour. ‘He’s useless!’ I ventured. Then Torres scored. The stadium erupted. ‘He’s brilliant!’ I yelled.
Next, Luiz scored a goal which even I could see was a humdinger, and the best song of the night rang out, to the tune of the chorus of Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’:
‘Oh David Luiz, you are the love of my life, oh David Luiz, I’d let you s**g my wife!’ The little boy waved his arms and became a man as his mother tutted. It was enough to make you wipe tears from your eyes.