Becoming a football fan

Words by @amyjosays

It’s England’s last fixture of 2018 and I’m in Wembley Stadium, watching the dramatic events unfold in front of me. My heart sinks when Croatia go ahead, and then soars when England equalise. I’m perched on the edge of my seat, urging the ball to cross over the line again as if my flapping hand gestures and random exclamations can influence the outcome. Then it happens; Harry Kane makes it 2-1 and the crowd is on its feet - cheering, flag-waving and hugging.

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When the final whistle blows, I’m ecstatic that it’s a win but my passion is new and unfamiliar. If you’d have told me I would care this much a year ago, I would have been surprised and a little confused. I was more likely to be found at a pub quiz dreading the humiliation of the ‘Sports Round’ than watching football. So, how did I suddenly end up here? And how did it come to mean so much?

Until recently, my interest in football had always been casual. This wasn’t my first ever match, but I’d only attended two before - my hometown team of Brighton & Hove Albion V Wolverhampton Wanderers, and a charity game featuring Hollyoaks FC which, apparently, “doesn’t count”. When it came to football on TV, I watched England and the ‘big’ events but I wasn’t driven to want more. As we all know too well, following England was often a disheartening experience - hopes were high but short-lived, and tournaments were followed by a negative fallout.

With Gareth Southgate in charge and a new team of young players, this year was different.

Like million of other people across the country, I caught World Cup fever. I revelled in every one of the team’s six goals against Panama (I was secretly quite happy for Panama to score just the one too but I should probably keep that one quiet...). I nervously watched Eric Diers decisive penalty from behind a door frame and leapt from my hiding place when, OMG, England won the shootout. I screamed with joy when Kieran Trippier scored that free kick and throughout it all, I clapped like an enthusiastic seal.

Even when it was all over, I felt a huge sense of pride with how far we had come. And I noticed that I had started saying “we” instead of England.

This wasn’t just because of success, but because of a feeling. At a time of political turbulence, England finally had something positive to share. For those heady weeks, the belief that it really could be coming home this time united everyone - from the casuals to the commited.

National football was part of English culture again. From waistcoats to memes, the feelgood factor was inescapable. It had gone beyond scorelines and became something much bigger. As the heatwave faded and the Lightning Seeds tumbled out of the charts, I waited for normality to return. But this wasn’t a tournament fling. My interest didn’t fade after England’s exit. Instead, it continued to grow.

It was the little things at first - following a few clubs and communities on social media, turning newspapers over to the back page, taking up fantasy football and just simply watching more games (albeit from my sofa). Since then, I’ve gradually become more interested and excited by the beautiful game.

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Thanks to Russia 2018 and England’s efforts, I discovered a new interest. As I explore the wider world of football, my strongest connection is still with the England team. So, naturally, I got behind the UEFA Nations League. But this time, I wasn’t content with the TV screen - I wanted to be there.

However, as the final group stage game crept closer, I still didn’t have tickets so I came up with a plan (of sorts) - I was going to find competitions and win my way in. And I did just that.

Thanks to a pair of complimentary tickets, I experienced something I didn’t know I even wanted to a year ago. Now, I look back at the game and wonder why I left it all up to chance, hoping to be a part of that crowd again and knowing that I will be.

Looking back on 2018, people will talk about how the nation fell in love with England again. But for me, it was more than that - I fell in love with football.

AMY DRUCQUER