SILVERWARE should not be the reason someone follows a team. It is accepted that it is the reason some players join a club but at the most basic and important level, that of supporters, it should be something deeper. Make no mistake, however, silverware is the chocolate sprinkles on the icing on the cake.
That thought occurred to me as I cringed watching John Terry stride forward to take a penalty to win the European Cup for Chelsea. He was going to win it, I was hearing as much from my brother who could not have cared less about the result and barely even remembered there was a game for some sort of cup. My brother was whispering that belief as I turned away. So I had to rationalise it in my head. It is not life or death, it really is more important to fans. At that moment I was trying to find something that I could cling to in defeat, and there was nothing. It was about to hurt.
I remembered the tears I cried when Aston Villa beat us to win the Coca Cola Cup final, the one where Les Sealey played in goal for us and Kanchelskis got sent off for a hand ball. That was some third rate cup domestically, THIS was the European Cup for crying out loud. It was going to hurt – no-one should ever believe that football support was rational.
Just as John Terry strode forward I noticed his confidence and I thought to myself that it would be very funny if, given his outward stride, he completely bumbled his effort. Luckily he did and we were still in it. Cut to Nicolas Anelka and completely the opposite happened, he didn’t look confident at all and as Edwin flew across the goal to make the save I jumped the highest on the bed as my Dad and brother sat next to me. I got some major height and I punched the air because we had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Mine was a glorious leap; in slow motion at the end of Sky Sports coverage it would have looked brilliant. Unfortunately I wasn’t on Sky Sports and I came crashing down though the bed. So fine is the line between success and failure that if we had lost, my parents probably would have still had a spare bed. But we won, and now it lies broken in the loft.
The champagne lasted a long time; we got the best bottles, the ones that my Dad doesn’t like to use often. I think if the Pope came round even he would only get the normal champagne, loft champagne is far too good. All that and there was my mum asking if we could open another bottle.
Yes my mum and brother thought it was hilarious that they were both whispering support for Chelsea to wind us up. Yes it would have been pure hell for my Dad and I if we had lost that match.
We know the hell because we have lived it before, all true fans have. It is precisely that which gives us the allowance to go completely mental when your team wins.
United do get a few fair-weather fans, as do most of the big clubs these days. I watched seats empty at Old Trafford with five minutes to go in the European Semi Final against Barcelona and it made me sick. Supporting a football club isn’t about leaving early to beat the traffic, it’s not about concealing disappointment and moving off the spare bed to watch the news and make a brew. Supporting a football club is about going from the absolute belief that you have lost, to the complete knowledge that you have won. It is about falling through the spare bed because your team are the European Champions.
Anyone that sees football as twenty two men and a ball of air has my deepest sympathy because they probably were able to watch that European Cup Final and have no real idea who they wanted to win. That seems alien to me.
What you learn in defeat makes days of victory all the more enjoyable and our boys have sampled victory at the highest heights this season. We have every right to be proud of those boys, because at the moment they ran to embrace our keeper it was not about money, it was not about contracts, it was not about being in the shop windows. They will have those in the months that follow I am sure, but at that moment they were on the same level as the fans.
That was their leap on their spare bed, but they didn’t break theirs.