Wing-backin’ it

(I played around with that headline for about half an hour, I hope the play on words is obvious)

In news that will surprise exactly zero people, I’m quite a fan of sports. So much of a fan, in fact, that I made a new blog all about them (nudge, nudge). But my favourite form of running around in pursuit of arbitrary measurements of athletic accomplishment, and the one that I have the most complicated relationship with, is football.

I was a much more passionate fan – of both football in general, and of Tottenham Hotspur football club in particular – when I was younger, and when I got to university, I somewhat shunned the sport as part of a wider disassociation from many of the things that I enjoyed as a kid, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, would reach its peak with the whole gender thing. I wasn’t a 16-year-old, reliant on playing in weekly kickabouts and watching irregular Tottenham games for entertainment, I was a far more mature, and independent, 18-year-old! Free to make their own entertainments and pursue their own interests, which, in reality, resembled being really sad and playing a fuck-tonne of dodgeball.

But in the past few months, I have fallen in love with the game again, fuelled by a combination of a surprisingly entertaining World Cup, the continued and surprising not-shitness of Tottenham, and stumbling across an LGBT+-friendly team in Soho, a stone’s throw-in away from where I’m currently living in north London. Having played precisely two games of football in the last four years – both of them one-off Boxing Day matches which served chiefly to burn off the previous day’s Christmas Dinnering rather than encourage any revolutionary football to be played – I rocked up to a training session on a Friday night and never looked back. This weekend, I played my first game for the team – about an hour of ball-chasing in a pre-season friendly – and for the first time since I first joined the dodgeball club back at university, I’m feverishly excited about playing a sport again.

I thought, for a while, of writing an elaborate and self-centred match report from that Saturday afternoon, in which I would have berated myself for my poor positioning as a left-back in an expansive 3-4-3 system, and wagged the firmest of fingers at Past Casey for their inability to track the run of the opposition right-winger, who scampered in behind me to score the second of their four goals in a 4-2 defeat for Soho. But that’s not the point (at least, gratuitous self-pity was never the intention of any of this blogging business, but the best-laid plans and all that).

But honestly, it’s the excitement that’s got me more, well, excited! The games I’ve played over the last few years have been relatively new additions to my life, and while the friends and experiences I’ve made and shared on tatami and court have been largely wonderful, I have never escaped the feeling that they are additions, bolted-on activities and pastimes to break up long weeks and short weekends. Football, however, is something altogether more personal, somehow more intrinsic; I spent my parents’ wedding decked out in a full England away kit, dribbling a ball back and forth with my grandfather and astutely ignoring the ceremony; from the ages of 8 until about 18, my primary means of socialising was taking a ball down to the park at the bottom of my road, booting it at the nearest similarly-aged lad and striking up the firmest and most temporary of friendships, as we’d pass and move and shoot to, around and at each other on our Sunday evenings, burning days into ashes ahead of another week at school.

And football is that for me; no matter how important the abstracts of tactics and positions become in a proper 11aside game, or the fact that playing with adults requires adult conversations and socialising rather than romanticised friend-making through ball-kicking, I think football will always hark back to that romanticsed past. A time before rent payments and disappointing relationships, or Nazis took over the internet and society became self-aware and promptly flung itself off a cliff.

I’m making this football malarkey up as I go again, and it’s the best feeling.

Author: JP Casey

They/them. Chaotic gender neutral. Straight Edge. Writer. Journalist. User of full stops.

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