As with most of my Life List items, if you’d told me I would be doing them a year ago, I would have thought you were crazy. On Saturday evening, I found myself in a stadium with more than 37,000 other people, cheering on Aston Villa as they scored the winning goal. Well, they might not all have been cheering for Villa, but you get what I’m saying.
A football match.
The Life List item in question is to watch ten sports live, and the first of the as-yet-undecided lineup was a Premier League football match. I’ve never been to any football match before and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d chosen the event to report on as part of my writing course as well, but I have more details about that side of things over on Sidepodcast.
Here, I’ll tell you all about the panic attack I had walking to the stadium itself. Fun!
It’s probably worth starting at the beginning, why I chose Villa. Essentially, it was because they had the only website I could understand. I had sort of earmarked Birmingham as the area I wanted to go to, I like it there. That still leaves a choice of about four teams in the Premier League. I sort of wanted to visit West Brom but only because I know Frank Skinner is a fan. They, and Birmingham City, both have really bad sites though, and as a complete newbie, I couldn’t understand where to get tickets from. One of the sites I looked at had an entire section of ticket news with no clear indication of how to buy. Here, read about tickets but you can’t have any!
So, Villa had a nice website, easy to use, easy to buy, and they have quite fun colours. Sold.
Next up, the story takes a turn for the worse, and it involves parking. Driving to Birmingham is easy peasy, surrounded as it is by motorways. There’s not a lot of parking around the Aston Villa grounds though, and signposts are essentially non-existant. We saw plenty of signs saying there were parking restrictions on a match day, but nothing with the more useful information of where you CAN park.
We located a school that was hosting as many cars as was possible to squeeze into the small playground, and thankfully got the second to last spot. That was after driving round and round the tiniest of lanes, facing off the same fire engine twice, and getting stuck behind a bus resulting in a three-maybe-four-or-five-point-turn. It’s fair to say I was quite stressed by the time I exited the car, and stomped through the streets asking the heavens who in their right mind puts a fire station in the middle of a housing estate.
We ended up being five minutes late for the match, which was partly due to my altercations with the emergency services, and partly because we approached the stadium on the wrong side and had to trot all the way round to the opposite grandstand.
As we were walking round one corner, we could peek at the people sitting in the higher tiers, and they were all singing their chants as one. A great swell of voices washed out of the stadium, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t breathe. I’m not so good with the crowds, you see.
Still, I had the tickets, and I was determined not to be a person who isn’t good with the crowds, so we marched on. Finally we got to the right bit, and were allowed in. We had to go through the late entry gate and everything.
Thankfully, I had purchased seats relatively near the front of the pitch. Not only did this mean a rather stunning view, but it also meant I couldn’t see the thousands of people behind me. We were maybe five minutes late, and it was only another ten minutes or so when the first and only goal of the match was scored.
The first I knew about it was that I couldn’t see anymore. I had blinked, and suddenly everyone around me was jumping up and down and hugging each other. Even Mr C had seen it happen and was on his feet. I felt like a bit of a loser for not being able to keep up, but the happiness of everyone around was quite catching, so it didn’t really matter.
Clearly we were amongst Villa fans, so we immediately assumed this identity as well. It was easy in the first half, when Villa did well, but a lot harder in the second half when a) all the action was at the other end of the pitch, and b) Villa were playing so defensively it was painful viewing.
Everyone around us was an expert as well. Behind us there were a couple of men with beautiful Birmingham accents telling the manager exactly what he was doing wrong. They were quite calm about it, analysing the game as it went along. In front, some of the fans were a bit less eloquent with swearing and hand gestures and all the booing they could possibly manage. I did feel pretty uncomfortable around such negativity, but I know it is equal with their passion for the sport, so I can’t necessarily fault them for it. It also paved the way for one of my favourite moments.
I didn’t quite see what happened (because I am a loser, remember) but it was either a Villa player was toppled, or was being blamed for knocking down a Manchester City chap. The grandstands nearest the incident, filled with home fans, all stood, waving their arms about at the referee. As I watched, the reaction rippled outwards until it was covering half the stadium – a Mexican wave of indignation. It was beautiful. And terrifying.
I’m eternally grateful that Villa won, because it was worrying enough hearing the people moan when their team were winning. I would hate to have been sat in the midst of a losing mood. At the end, the crowds filed out to choruses of Hi Ho Silver Lining, with the appropriate words replaced with Aston Villa. The mascots danced along, and it was all quite jolly. (Actually, I have to say the female mascot was unbelievable. Celebrating a goal is one thing, trying to put off a player taking a corner is just plain rude.)
We absolutely froze watching the match. I knew it was going to be cold, given that it was after dark in January, but the temperature dropped rapidly for the last 40 minutes or so. By the end, we could barely feel our fingers to write notes or take pictures. I am astounded that anyone can visit the football on a regular basis. It’s not always that cold, I know, but I’d wager it’s more often cold than it is warm.
After the match, I wanted a piece of merchandise, so we bought Villa gloves that I can use when I go running, and a programme for the game. The programme is plastered in Darren Bent, which seems fitting, seeing as he scored the winning goal.
I really enjoyed my visit to the Premier League, despite how freakishly stressful it all was. It’s not something I would want to do on a regular basis, and I’m not sure I would seek out another football match as something to do on an afternoon, but it was still brilliant, and I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I didn’t give in when I saw that fire engine barrelling towards me for the second time. I’m glad I didn’t let that sneak peek of the crowds stop me from going in.
On Saturday’s Aston Villa vs. Manchester City game, the attendance was 37,315.
One of those was me.