When former comedian Mark Watson suggested I get into football for Comic Relief, I knew there and then that at some point I would have to actually go to a football match. I'd have to get on a train full of large drunk men wearing the same t-shirts all shouting and, for some insane reason, actually singing together in public and then some other large drunk men, who are also in matching casualwear, start singing a different song that isn't to the first large drunk men's taste and so they have to rest their voices and have a fight. Then the train doors open and we get spewed out of the train and swarmed into a hugely sponsored stadium (or cunt holder, as they are known) and I find myself in the middle of an ocean of screaming bastards who spend 90 minutes threatening, punching and setting fire to anyone and anything that isn't exactly the same as them. I'd have to go to watch Chelsea and stand in Chelsea's cunt holder with all their held cunts knowing that if they don't kill me then I will just die of fear. When I took the challenge, I knew that this is what I must do. I am many things but a coward is not one of them. That's why I went to my first ever football match last night. Yeah, that's right. I went to an anti-homophobia friendly match with a child.
Dylan and I didn't have the best start when we first met. My very good friend Phat Paul met Dylan in a maternity theatre about 8 years ago and, as soon as they met, Phat Paul seemed to just want to hang out with Dylan more than me. Phattie and I met in the queue for The Comedy Store Players in 1989 and the next day we were living together. That's pretty special, you must admit? But pretty much the same thing happened when he met Dylan so clearly Phat Paul is a very fickle and heartless man. I remember going round to their flat once and Dylan was just lying there on the sofa all asleep and Phat Paul just stared at him. After a while, he picked Dylan up and carried him to bed. I was so hurt. He hadn't picked me up and put me to bed in years. As time went by, nearly all my paintings were taken off Phat Paul's fridge and replaced by Dylan's that, fuck it I can say this now, weren't all that. They just weren't. They went on holiday together, he introduced Dylan to his Mum and pretty soon Phat Paul was sorting out this guy's education. Something he never did for me. So it's his fault I'm an idiot. Anyway, I was about to meet Dylan and, as there was quite a bit of bad blood between us, he had better be ready to win me over.
He turned up (LATE, may I add) with four packs of Match Attax trading cards and gave two to me. OK, I admit it. That was a classy move on his part. While Phat Paul went to get drinks, Dylan and I looked through our new cards to see if we had any doubles to swap (He had brought his large pile of swapsies with him) and indeed our friendship was cemented over him swapping me his Ryan Giggs (I've heard of him!) for my Man Utd emblem (which he immediately booed once he got it). The best part of this new union was that Dylan had now agreed to explain the rules of footsie to me.
It was Dulwich Hamlet versus Stonewall FC at the Superstore Stadium, and that is really what it's called, in an anti-homophobia friendy match. Dylan is a Dulwich supporter so, as we were all getting on, I had to also support Dulwich. This is my first match and it instantly made me anti-gay. The system works. We stood behind Stonewall's net with the rest of the Dulwich fans, The Rabble. I expected a fair bit of chanting, it's footsie after all, but I didn't expect this. It all seemed like an indie disco. Men and women singing chants to the tunes of not particularly popular John Peel tracks from the 80's. My favourite was the one sung to the tune of Gangsters by The Specials: " Why do you support Dulwich Hamlet? 'Cos we’re proud to follow you away. Said you’ve been threatened by Tooting. But we blew, blew them away. Da-da-da-da. Dada-dada-da-da-da". To be honest, I always assumed that footsie chants were supposed to be aggressive and, at the very least, belittling. The Rabble's chants were just surreal: "We are the famous Dulwich Hamlet and we look like Tuscany. TUSCANY! TUSCANY!!".
I think that was the best part. It was just idiots happily being idiots while a match went on. And the match was pretty good (I think. I'm still not sure). Dylan explained what a defender, a striker and a centre forward was and I think I understood. He even explained the offside rule to me and I'm pretty sure I got that too. The game ended in a result that football itself would be proud of with the (completely presumably) straight team beating the gay team 4-0.
We went back to the club bar and played Match Attax. And it made me think, why isn't football like this? Smaller, friendly and surely better. Everyone in the bar talked about the match and just hung out and everything was relaxed and nice. I don't know if you've seen the news today but there isn't a single report of the violence at that match anywhere. And the bar does a series of guest ales. Look, that's not my thing but I just didn't expect a football club bar to have guest ales and friendly staff and no fighting. AND THEY ALLOW DOGS IN! It's lovely. There's no way Chelsea's stadium is this nice. And an anti-homophobia friendly match too! Would that happen at Chelsea? Or any of the major clubs? Has it happened? If not, why not? If the answer is the one I fear, then surely that's a better reason to do it. Imagine that? A stadium with people more interested in actual football than hate. It's a thought. Maybe the big clubs just aren't as brave as Dulwich and Stonewall. Maybe it's just big football that's utter crap because little football is great.
Of course, that doesn't help Dylan and me. Yes, he was very friendly when he first arrived (LATE, may I add) and he was very kind in being the first person to actually explain some things about football to me but Phat Paul used to be MY friend not someone else's. Never anyone else's. And it's hard to just forgive someone for stealing something that belongs to you. But I am more mature than Dylan so I accepted his offer of playing Match Attax.
It's basically Top Trumps. All cards have high scoring categories and low scoring categories and as a result the game lasts for hours and no one ever wins. But I wasn't going to just give up. I had to show Dylan that by accepting his Match Attax challenge I was every bit the man he was. Phat Paul refused to play and he looked bored but really it was Dylan I was trying to impress. Surely if I beat Dylan then he will see that I'm best and therefore Phat Paul will too. Of course, Dylan is about 38 years younger than me and it did cross my mind to lose on purpose so that he would win and he could feel good about himself but how patronising is that? Phat Paul would see through my ploy in a second and I would lose what respect he had for me. No. I had to beat him. I had to beat Dylan.
AND I DID!
The game was going on so long that we decided to just use just 5 cards each and see if that sped things up. It didn't. He would win one of my cards, then I would win one of his. Time and time again. Until suddenly, I hit a streak. I couldn't believe it. In 5 straight goes I won each of his cards and was declared the winner. It was my first go at playing Match Attax and even Dylan had to admit that I was the greatest footballer of all time, mainly because I wouldn't shut up until he did.
We said goodbye and I walked off to get my bus. I had a huge grin on my face because, mainly, I had beaten Dylan at Match Attax but also because my first experience of football was genuinely great. The match was great, everyone was friendly and Dylan taught me some football rules. Then I thought about our game of Match Attax. How come his last 5 cards all had low scores? Surely there had to be higher scoring categories to choose from? Why did he choose the low ones? Hmmm...
I have to be nicer to that guy.
Dylan explaining the offside rule to me using Match Attax cards.
IMPORTANT!!!! CAN YOU HELP WITH THIS? https://www.facebook.com/leggefootball
Also, please donate anything you can to Comic Relief here: http://my.rednoseday.com/sponsor/michaellegge