In issue 103 of popular STAND fanzine, editor Glen Wilson tried to shake off the mundanity of lockdown, by revisiting some past footballing hate.
There used to be a lot more passion in my life. Not in that sense. Well, OK, yes in that sense too, but that’s for a different time, and a very different publication. I’m talking about fight; about spirit. I noticed it the other night when I heard the words, “and your commentator for this one, Jonathan Pearce”. There was a time I would’ve hurled an “Oh f**k off back down the pit of oblivion with Sgt Bash and Sir Killalot” at the screen, maybe the remote too, but now I just pressed mute.
Maybe the want to care has been drained out of me through a year spent in the mundanity of lockdown. Maybe it’s overdue maturity. Or maybe it’s futility born from a run of crushing defeats. A lot of the things I’ve been vociferously opposed to in my 30s have happened anyway; Brexit, a Conservative government, the Belles demotion from the Super League, the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special. It’d be quite reasonable, especially in the wake of the latter’s obnoxiously defiant eight festive specials, if I simply had no more fucks to give.
But it wasn’t always like this. I was no angry young man, but I did find expressing outward annoyance much easier in my teens and twenties. And this was particularly prevalent when it came to hating football teams. Not displeasure, full-on irrational hate; a malignant irk I’d never been able to shirk. So, in an attempt to kickstart some feeling back into my prefrontal cortex, I’m using this column to revisit some of those self-constructed rivalries. And before you write in to point out the glaring absenteeism of Scunthorpe, Rotherham and Milton Keynes from this group, do remember these are irrational hatreds.
‘The Best of the West’ is how Yeovil referred to themselves as they chased us up through the divisions, a boast on a par with Greenland’s best golfer, or Rotherham’s biggest heartthrob. I’ve not checked but I presume they’re still managed by Gary Johnson, it just seems safe to assume so. In the same way Martin Allen is probably in charge at Barnet, and Lee Fowler is wherever Dean Saunders is. If it’s not Johnson it’ll be Terry Skiverton or Darren Way or another former player who can’t leave the south west owing to a crippling fear of modernity. The sort of people who still own a Nokia 3310 (key sounds on naturally) and who sit silently in the other room when recording owt on Sky Plus so as not to get their tea slurps on Touch of Frost.
Yeovil’s ground was easy to take a dislike to; one of those early new-builds, with all the charm of a Parkway railway station. And it’s slap bang in the middle of a trading estate, like a participant in an identity parade where the crime was committed by a giant nondescript box of corrugated metal and breezeblocks. ‘I’m sorry officer, it could be any of them’. Huish Park’s one redeeming feature is that it remains the only football ground named after the noise a bus makes when it stops.
Oh and if you’re still on the fence about Yeovil they had Paul Terry too; John Terry without the talent. A loathsome, thuggish carthorse on the pitch and a sleazing oaf away from it, Paul Terry was every inch his brother’s sibling. Apparently he’s an agent now. Figures.
Rushden & Diamonds
Younger readers may not even remember Rushden & Diamonds. The lucky gets. From never heard of, to irrationally prominent plaything that drew an army of fans from nowhere, to obscurity and source of wistful nostalgia, all in a few short years. They were the football club equivalent of the fidget spinner. Bankrolled by Max Griggs, the Dr. Martens owner, who may be a reasonable businessman, but in my late teenage mind he was clearly an evil man, a prototype Elon Musk who lived on an island in the Nene inside a hollowed out rock carved into the shape of a high-top boot.
Unfortunately the Diamonds’ rise to prominence tallied with Rovers lowest ebb, and suddenly cast adrift in a division with no other Yorkshire clubs, we had no option but to throw all our combined hatred at this, a bloody shoe shop works team. But they were the big new money, the bloke on the council estate with the unnecessarily elaborate gateposts, and so it didn’t matter that no-one knew where the fuck Rushden was. Or that I still don’t. They were a pantomime villain and that was all we needed.
Our five years in the Conference were great for anecdotes and lessons in general humility, but they weren’t half crap for derbies. In our first season at the fifth level our local rivals were Leek Town. Yes, Leek in Staffordshire. The poor sods looked frankly embarrassed by it all, they just wanted a nice afternoon out. Thankfully, Scarborough came down to join us the following season, and were as willing as us to suspend all belief in things like mileage to co-adopt each other as county rivals. If nowt else, what with the McCain Stadium and Belle Vue being the best of two hours apart, it gave us both an insight into what it’s like to be Plymouth Argyle; shit, but fiercely parochial.
Summoning enough internal anger to really despise a place that we’d all had enjoyable holidays at, was made easier by the fact we only ever played them on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day, when everything was bleak and cold. And Chris Tate always came across as a prick too. And their stewards stopped a Rovers fan from taking a Christmas tree into the McCain Stadium, despite his plea of ‘but it’s the only time of year it’s relevant’. I’d accuse them of no sense of humour, but then they also chose half-time in a game with 1,200 Rovers away fans present to announce via the tannoy that there was still room for more supporters on their planned “mini-bus to Leigh”.
Actually, having given this some thought, I realise the sole thing I despised about Boston United was Steve Evans, so I’m bumping this one to the rational list. Along with Crawley. And Mansfield. And Peterborough. And Gillingham.
Could there be anything more lower league than a rivalry borne out of perceived favouritism from the regional news networks? Because let’s face it, that’s what this was. A two-season, largely one-way hatred over who got to be the subject of John Helm’s wet dreams. I hated them because we were brilliant in that 2003-04 season, but no matter how far we stretched our lead at the top of the table, the Monday night round-ups would be about Hull closing in on promotion.
Because we were the scruffy upstarts and they were the future. They had a huge new all-seater stadium, they were getting five figure crowds. They weren’t just Hull either, they were Peter-Taylor’s-Hull. He’d managed England under 21s don’t you know? And Christ, didn’t we know it. It takes all sorts to get over an irrational hatred… in this case it was taunting a seething mass of 2,000 baying Humbersidians by sending out a group of teenage cheerleaders to parade the League Two trophy in front of them. A final fuck you delivered by way of a rejected Benny Hill sketch.
OK, I know what you’re thinking, but (season managed by Steve Evans aside), this one escapes the rational hatred logic, because contrary to the popular terrace song, we don’t all hate Leeds scum. We haven’t played them enough, we’ve trodden far too different paths for it to be logical, and have only really come into contact like oxymoronic characters thrown together on screen in the hope hilarity will ensue. We’re the Warrington to their Rossiter, the DeVito to their Shwarzenegger, the Hooch to their Turner.
But by God do I hate the sizable Doncaster-born element of their fanbase. Go into any sports bar anywhere in the world and there’ll be a Leeds fan there, and he’ll be wearing that yellow Strongbow-sponsored away shirt, and he won’t be from Leeds. He’ll be from another Yorkshire town, and it’ll most likely be ours.
‘Donny Whites’; I’ve no time for hypocrisy; a lifetime spent watching players kiss the club badge before buggering off for better money does that to you. Sing ‘Marching on Together’ and call the Premier League your ‘rightful place’ all you like. Truth is when the going got tough for us, the tough turned their backs and buggered off up the M1 to coo over Lorimer or Batty or Viduka instead. Grudges with Leeds were never about on-pitch rivalry because there was none. It was because we all know a Leeds fan in our town, and they’ve sat in our stadium’s away end and sung as much at us, so instead it’s us versus that annoying bloke at work, or that pillock down the pub, and it’s no wonder I hated them so.
OK, now I’m angry and trapped in my flat. Why was I doing this again?
This article first appeared in print in issue 103 of popular STAND fanzine