“I’m Liverpool’s greatest supporter,” he says, confidently, albeit not very modestly. “Home or away, you’ll always find me watching them. Never miss a game. Come on you reds! You’ll never walk alone.”
“Really?” I reply. “I didn’t know you were a football fan. I’m a Kettering Town supporter myself. I manage to get to most of their away games. I just love the travel, the unique atmosphere and culture of each town they play in and each club they play, and the novelty of every different ground they play on.”
My colleague’s response is one that can only be described as well on the mocking side of derision. As his genuine, gut-based laughter eventually dies down, and he has wiped the tears from his eyes, he asks, “Who? Never heard of them. That’s not football. What proper team do you support?”
So goes the Monday morning football conversation around the breakout room at work. Not for the first time, I am required to justify how a follower of Kettering Town can actually be regarded as a genuine football fan. My colleagues patronise me with comments of thinly disguised disdain, as though they were Monty Don trying to express interest in a window box, or Tiger Woods attempting of having a serious conversation about crazy golf.
There’s just one problem. I really am a supporter of Kettering Town. I first watched them in 1981 - Altrincham at home in the Alliance League Cup Final (Second Leg) - when I moved to live and work in the area. And despite having moved to Ipswich 26 years ago, I’ve continued to watch the Poppies ever since. At last count, on one hundred and seventeen different grounds around the country.
And what’s more, he’s not really a supporter of Liverpool. As with many such confessions of undying loyalty, they are spoken by people who have never even been to Anfield, Old Trafford, or any live football match for that matter, in their lives. For them, the sum total of effort invested into being ‘Liverpool’s greatest fan’ involves settling down on the sofa and pressing a button on the remote.
And so, if time in the breakout room allows, I take the opportunity of offering some of my own mock ridicule. “You’re not a real football fan,” my banter begins. “What you are is a virtual football fan. A real fan sets off at 6.00 am on Saturday morning, anxious about the weather forecast and traffic reports. He keeps an eye on diversionary routes in case of delays, and knows exactly where the nearest alternative matches are, should bad weather or a floodlight failure cancel the intended game at the last minute and he needs to divert.”
I want to go on. I want to share with him the sense of liberty I feel by traveling across the country, the fascination of discovering new places, the uniqueness of each stadium, and the craic with opposing fans. I want him to experience the elation of the unexpected win, the torment of the last ten minutes, and the agony of the injury time loss. But he’s glazing over by now, and has lost interest.
...watched Ipswich Town home and away until moving to Kettering in 1983, since when I have followed Kettering Town. If I'm not watching KTFC, I tend to seek out a game on a ground I have not previously visited.
...featured in the Kettering Town match-day programmes in the 2021-22 season.
Kettering; verb. The present continuous tense of the verb 'to ketter', as in "I know I am, I'm sure I am, I'm Kettering till I die". Or, as our fans sang once on a rain-soaked open terrace in Charlton, "I'm Kettering till I dry".
We are required to be pessimists. Being a pessimist is a large part of the enjoyment.