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Armchair Albion….

June is my least favourite month of the year; it’s my very own ‘January’. A lot of folk would be confused by such a sentence. “It’s summer”, they would say, “..Get out and about- stop lamenting the various sporting seasons past”. In other words ‘Get a life’.

Well, the answer, as defensive as it sounds, is that I very much have a life- and one I most enjoy. But whilst the long country walks of June and the Sunday afternoons spent watching my old friends play Cricket are something to look forward to in themselves, June is a rotten month infested with old habits. At least my partner gets to see me.

The old habits I speak of are centred on the inability to let the Football season go. Watching matches, highlights, and studying obscure league tables are replaced by the endless pursuit of the latest, and mostly hopelessly inaccurate transfer speculation. It’s at this point I rather wish that forums like Twitter and NSC didn’t exist. The Ashes has ensured that this annoyance hasn’t continued through July as much as it is capable of, and the excitement of the upcoming Rugby World Cup is building. In reality though, the one pleasure I probably miss the most is the journeys to Albion matches. And that forms the backbone of this entry.

It’s all change in my household. No need for too many details, but finances and job prospects have taken a downturn. The result, for now, is that the season ticket for the sleepy corridor of the East Stand Upper is no more. Away days are on hold. A friend of mine writes a popular blog called ‘Brighton But Only At Home’, this is ‘Brighton And Always At Home’- and it’s worth an entry of its own.

This is, naturally, where NSC and Twitter find themselves back in favour. As does BBC online, and also those dodgy Arabic streams with the only recognisable words being ‘Briyin and Hov Albyen’. This may be a disposition that the followers of Manchester United and Chelsea are familiar with, but not for me in recent times. I’m already finding ways of adapting to it.

The first match of the season saw a stroke of fortune. I had treated myself to NowTV for a month, a reward for good financial behaviour, and a reward for bad financial behaviour even if I hadn’t been so frugal. The Ashes cannot be missed, but thrown in the unwitting package was Albion’s first home game of the season- perfection before despair.

So, after an enforced break from work (it does have its upside) I was treated to the penultimate days play in another shortened Test Match, and then the grand opener. So at twenty to seven there was no collecting of belongings for the short ritual to the bus stop over the road to catch the humble servant of Queens Park, the number 23.

My other half was most understanding. There is normally a trade off in these circumstances, but Friday posed no such problems. As I took to the old and grey low armchair (Oh, I was told that I wasn’t sitting in ‘my’ chair) I settled in for the contest.

First up the delightful country tones of Ian Holloway, clearly pursuing a new line of work after his recent managerial failure. I actually quite like old Worzel, and thankfully when the issue of his Play-Off engagements was raised he omitted the mention the present location was one of the venues of his greatest triumphs. Wise. Bobby Zamora was introduced to the crowd, and I felt the treason of indifference. Don’t get me wrong, he will be a help to the squad I’m sure, but I don’t think our returning hero will be the catalyst for a season of unprecedented triumph that a few believe. I hope I’m spilling my scrambled egg all over my face during a noon kick-off as a result of this view, but I don’t eat egg anyway, and I think it’s unlikely.

So the match began, and Albion had perkiness about them. More attacking minded, perhaps. I noticed that the team had reverted to a long lost 4-4-2. And with an English manager. It led me to wonder what the other armchair managers will be calling for if it doesn’t work out. But enough of that.

Twenty minutes into the game, and the mood in the grey cathedra was most relaxed. Albion were looking comfortable. At home I never seem to feel the same tension if the match is on my television as I would at the ground itself. I think we are inclined to absorb other people’s complexions in a partisan crowd. It’s easier to rationalise events in our home surroundings. But as proceedings wound on to the half time whistle a cold reality dawned on me- and no saving of £4.10 would comfort the dark angst of my soul. No AMEX, no pie….

Now Masters of Economics would argue that my total pie expenditure during the AMEX years (approx £300) could well have softened the impact of this summer’s personal recession had I not succumbed to it’s perfectly formed pastry, it’s succulent and plentiful meat offering, it’s…… anyway. No AMEX, no pie. No pie, no…, well, football is an experience at its best when it is the final product of a carefully crafted litany of personal rituals. It’s not all about what happens on the pitch, almost. Absented from the slavish devotion to concrete habits, a glass of water sufficed.

The second half came upon me in rather quick time, as if the time stopping that hopeful, or despairing, anticipation brings was somehow suspended by the familiarity of my neutral surroundings. There were online messages to check, my temporary widow of an other half to attend to, and a clean and uncrowded convenience to visit. That is an upside that someone with emotional withdrawal from the Footballing Theatre can easily graduate to.

Thus, newly acquainted with my peripheral and lonesome football experience, my heart rate stayed steady for the second half- until Lua Lua scored. I didn’t leap out my seat, punch the air- I didn’t even move, but obviously the tension of holding on to a lead, particularly given our recent record of scoring after taking said lead, was a raw emotion that my brain hadn’t forgotten.

The thought occurred to me that, had I been at the game itself, my reaction to the goal would have been different. And different in different parts of the ground. Experts in social anthropology need not offer any explanation for this, I’m aware of the herd mentality thing. But it is only when one thinks about this that one becomes aware of how this plays out with a person’s psychology. This is not to say that such an understanding will alter my emotions at the next match I do attend. Again, as I’ve said, football is about the surrendering to an experience that at time has no logic. Look at my inherited dislike for Crystal Palace, amongst others, It’s not rational- I indulge in it because I choose to. Quite why is a thesis I have no desire to write.

So the final whistle was blown. And instinctively I got up from my seat. But this time no goodbyes, no crowded stairways, exhausting short dashes for the Village Way bus. No tempting glances towards the kiosk for a final pie, fuelled by the lack of a queue. No, just a short walk to the kitchen and the filling of the kettle for a celebratory cup of coffee, and the immortal words “I hope there’s no extra time, those plates won’t wash themselves….”

Welcome to Armchair Albion…

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