England v Cameroon: Ladies! The brutality!!
‘I’m a gonna make a fuss, I’m a gonna make a holler,
‘Cause I ain’t got no team for the summer I can a’foller…’
It might be sunny. It might not be. Whatever, it’s raining in your heart. You’re in that dead zone. You know. The one where the Championship season has finished – and in disappointment – again. The play-offs are over. The annual date ends in an odd number so there’s no World Cup or European Championships to feed your addiction.
So what are you going to do? Other than scour the internet daily while the agents are busy and rumours abound about your players. You of course have your own ideas about which Leeds players should be ditched and which positions need strengthening. But you know that you’ll have to wait until the big boys have done their transfer business and maybe settled on their twenty-five men squads before the trickle down will happen and your team can scrap for the pickings, or maybe land some promising young players on loan.
Meanwhile there will always be rumours of a takeover if you’re a Leeds fan. The press just love inciting and milking them, and then glorying in the daily confusion thus engendered. But you are hardened to this. You’ve endured enough TOMAs in the past. It’s what’s happening with the team that concerns you most. And frustratingly you have to put that curiosity on hold.
So you come home from work tired and with an urge to throw a microwave meal down your neck and get out to the pub early so it’ll be quiet in there; and you can be in peace to work out your Championship odds and predictions for the new season. You need to nail a definitive top six teams for your accumulator. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been successful before – the studied interest, intense scrutiny, and the possible anticipation of being right for once are the thing. Of course Leeds are always in the list despite the fact that you suspect such bias might have been a cause of your undoing in previous seasons. They just couldn’t not be. And now a recent third place finish has strengthened your optimism despite your complete denial of the frustration and disappointment at the end of the 2018-19 season tempered only slightly by Derby’s apposite demise in the final. You refuse to enter into debate with fellow sufferers, and instead only want to look forward.
‘Sit down,’ she says. ‘Your tea’s nearly ready. It’s shepherd’s pie. You’ll find a beer and an iced glass in the living room, and we’ll eat on our knees so we can watch the TV.’
Flummoxed you think, beer = tick; home made meal of shepherd’s pie = check, but TV? Not bloody soaps again surely? So you wander in to the living room and sit down consoled slightly by the cold bottle of lager on the coffee table followed by herself who says, ‘We’re going to be a proper couple and watch something together.’ She sees your downcast look and the possibility that you’re going to say, ‘But I was off out to the…’ and she adds, ‘It’s football.’
Your eyes light up. Has she dug out a re-run from The Glory Years? Or is there an international tournament on you didn’t know about?
‘Women’s football,’ she adds. ‘World Cup no less.’
Your heart sinks. Women can’t play football. It’s not sexist: just a fact. They’re bound to sprain their ankles if they run too fast like they do in the films, or worse, cry if they got a ball blasted into their faces. And what if their make-up gets smudged if it rains? Mind you that could equally apply to a few Premier League prima donnas. Oh well, you sigh inwardly with resignation, at least it’s football. And it’ll probably only be thirty minutes for each half. Women won’t be fit enough to do the full ninety so there’ll still be time for the pub.
So you watch dutifully. And gradually have to admit that there’s some skill there, so much so that at times you want to forget yourself and get involved, even though it’s women playing, and yet you do.
‘What do you think?’ she asks at half-time.
‘All right,’ you reply condescendingly. ‘They certainly know the rules and how to pass and that,’ you trail off, and with fresh inspiration, add, ‘but there’s no real contact happening.’
She nods noncommittally as you continue to watch. But curiously you’re ready for more on another night. And your words come back to haunt you when you witness the England Lionesses, who you now support, face Cameroon! The brutality! My God, the opposition was cynical. Not many Premiership players would’ve fancied facing that. And where was a strong referee when you needed one? But the girls took it all in their stride.
Not long after you’re already in front of the TV of an evening with the pause button active and urging your missus to get a move on and schlep her arse in sharpish to watch the action. When she looks pleased at this you realise that it could be a great result: not the game, but her finally taking an interest in football.
And then the heartbreak of England going out to the USA having been denied a goal for a contentious offside and then having failed to convert a late penalty. ‘Just like the bloody men’s team!’ you moan with genuine disappointment. You’ve said the right thing. Though she’s slightly down, not almost hysterical like you after the offside decision, she gives you a warm kiss.
But there can always be a bright dawn even after the most challenging disappointments. Pre-season is underway and Bielsa’s staying. Time to turn your attention to loftier matters and the LUFC transfer comings and goings and speculations and to get your accumulator on after all that deliberation. And to admit that inside, the Women’s World Cup filled a great sporting hole. They may be women but it is football after all. And the great thing was – they were fit! In all senses! And you could ogle them while your missus looked on appreciatively, and if she caught you looking too closely or doing too many replays with the remote you could claim it was to check out the incident, or appreciate that bit of skill etc. And some of the players did have long eyelashes, or wore make-up, or had their hair tied back in interesting ways – not, you noticed, too dissimilar from some Premiership players you’d seen recently. And Gareth Bale’s topknot? Well at least it hadn’t caught on with the women yet.
Anyway you couldn’t hold the women’s appearances against them could you? That would be sexist. You were interested in the game not their looks. Something you tended to point out at length to the missus when she questioned how many close up replays you needed to watch.
In conclusion you decide that the experiment was a win-win situation. She was starting to appreciate your love of football, and trying to join in with you in the enjoyment of watching it. She’d finally ‘got it’. That is, you and your obsession, and you could now be obsessed together. So with a slightly suppressed smile and inner warmth you think why not? Hang the expense. It’s time to push the boat out and feed your other half’s new interest.
And with that in mind you get your debit card out and prepare to pay for… hold it…two tickets for you and her to witness your beloved Leeds take on the might of Guiseley FC at Nethermoor. She’ll be over the moon. Live football and the two of you there to soak in the atmosphere, with an added bonus: it’ll a lot easier and quicker to get pies there at half time.
Many thanks to talented wordsmith PATRICK HOGAN for yet another quality contribution to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. MOT