It’s a strange love, between a young lady and American Football. On the one hand, men in leggings looking completely absurd. On the other, men in leggings whilst I wear two coats and still freeze in the snow on the side of the pitch wondering which one in the heap of bodies on the floor is my friend.
I can’t say I loved it in the beginning. My friend, he said, come to the game on Sunday, I’m playing, you might enjoy it.
I went to the game that Sunday, and more than six years later, I’ve still not come home.
By the end of University I was out on UEA Pirates team socials, watching every game, on the Away bus down to the Phantoms game at stupid o’ clock in the morning. I was winning the occasional medal as a ballroom dancer and once left practice two days before the Blackpool competition to rush down to Colney just to watch 10 minutes of their last game that saw them go to the playoffs.
I was working the night that they went to Sheffield for their last championship playoff game, feigned ‘digestive distress’ every 15 minutes to go to my locker and check my phone for the score. When they lost, I cried in front of seven separate customers, and didn’t care.
That friend is now my husband, and when we left the Pirates behind in 2012 we came to the Essex Spartans, who offered us each a home. Foolishly they’ve put me in a tremendous position of power, and two weeks ago got me to stand up in front of the players and introduce myself. I’ve spoken to the existing ones hundreds of times, emailed and welcome and collected paperwork on behalf of the new ones but got myself in a complete state still when I had to say who I was and what I do. It’s not like I struggle to talk particularly.
So at least the Spartans play through the summer so there’s less snow for me to have to stand through – got a bit of sunburn last year actually; that was nice. Training is cold, but since my welcoming and administrative skills are no longer required at the beginning of sessions it’s now acceptable for me to turn up at ten to three, not help with the equipment and wave at the players from my car with the heater on.
And it’s hard sometimes, driving for hours to get to an away game, then killing a couple of hours before kick-off in the pub (actually that bit is fine), standing around and trying to follow the game holding a phone, a notepad, simultaneously Tweeting and Facebook-updating the game live every five minutes for three and a half hours in the rain, win or lose, then driving home with my grumpy (assuming they lost) or aggravatingly over-excited (on a win) husband for a few more hours – then sitting down to write a match report and answer all the messages from this one pain-in-the-arse guy who says, “Isn’t anyone updating the scores?”
And then I check my bank balance and… oh yeah, we’re volunteers, better get up for work on Monday, that mortgage deposit isn’t going to save itself!
To outsiders it seems like an extortionate amount of work for ‘nothing’. None of us are paid; the players get battered and shouted at and give up their Sundays, pay subs for the privilege; coaches have to drive here, there and everywhere, write playbooks, fill up their cars with petrol again, take all the grief if we lose and still can’t have a pint if we win because they’ve got to get up for work in the morning.
So why bother then? Well that’s easy. For the love of the lads, the love of the team, and for the love of football.
Worth it then – enormously.
Happy Valentine’s Day!