Thursday, 19 May 2016

Passion, Loyalty and Culture: The Humble Away Day.

As a young, naive prepubescent child, I discovered football, back in the 'good old days' where the BBC would show live matches. However, what hadn't occurred to my semi developed self, was that there was anything to football other than the corporate machine that is the Premier League, and giants of the game at the time, such as the Arsenal Invincible squad, and the ruthless Manchester United team Sir Alex Ferguson had put together.
However, as I've grown older, I have discovered just how ignorant, disillusioned and unaware I was of the beauty of the lower league system. With football being so much more than just a Sky Sports subscription or just a tourist attraction funding the extravagant lifestyles of the big names in the sport. Not that I'm criticising this - although personally, I see the Premier League as more of an entertainment empire than anything else, a competition for showcasing wealth of owners, and a platform for world class players to receive sickening pay slips, and the fans - being dehumanised as purely customers. However, we'll leave that for another time! Instead I want to talk about the ever growing popularity of the humble Away Day.
The year is 2014, as a Wycombe Wanderers fan, the season had been one to forget. Sitting 23rd coming into the last game of the season definitely isn't where you want to be, poor form, and categorically written off by just about everybody, all Bristol Rovers needed to do was to avoid defeat, the future looked bleak. However, as a fan you stay loyal to your team, even in their darkest hour. So, myself, along with 928 others, made that long, anxious trip down to Plainmoor, Torquay, aware that this could be the last league fixture we played for a long time. On arrival, I felt sick, and I can imagine most others did too, what followed, was miraculous, unexpected a master class even. An early goal, a penalty, a Torquay red card, and a deft dinked goal from McClure was the final nail in the Torquay coffin. News came through, Rovers had lost, it was a great, if not the greatest escape. The passion and loyalty of the fans that day, was the true epitome of the term 'the twelfth man'. Never have I seen such passion from a group of people who had really been put through the mill that season. Truly mind blowing stuff, and a day I shall never forget.
Since that day, be it with Wycombe Wanderers, or my non-league obsession, Aylesbury FC, away days have become a regular occurrence. It's become more than just about the football, when the alarm rings on a Saturday, it's about loyalty, passion, friendships and just the pure intrigue of an unknown ground.
Regardless of distance, form or weather conditions, loyalty shines through. Yes, a home game is often special, the roar of the home crowd and the familiarity of your surroundings makes it an enjoyable experience, seeing the same faces week in week out, but it's purely 90 minutes of football, win, lose or draw. However, the beauty of the away day is the whole experience, it's more than just the football aspect. Take my trip to York for example. On the surface a 1-1 draw against a team soon to be relegated was somewhat dismal, however, take a look deeper and you'll discover so much more. An 8 hour round trip in a clapped out Vauxhall Corsa with friends, listening to ancient mix-tapes from the past. Bumping into fans from other clubs, on their own away trips up and down the country and listening to their stories. On arrival, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings, singing chants in the traditional Bootham Cresent terrace, supplementing a traditional half time pie, followed by a local brew in a 'real' pub and taking in the beautiful architecture of York city centre. All of this brings you back to earth, and makes you really appreciate the unseen elements of football that keeps the love of the game so strong, proving football isn't just about seeing your team acquire the three points (although it's always a bonus!)
The same can be said about non-league, no thrills, and definitely nowhere near the glamour of the Premier Divisions. But without the passion and the loyalty to travel to away games, I would have missed out on so many memories - Building a personal relationship with players, fancy dress days to towns I've never heard of before. Silverware, oddities only seen in non-league (including the clichéd 'one man and his dog'). The exuberance of derby day injury time winners, riské chants and the strangest stadiums in the land.

Glamour? Who needs that when you have passion in abundance?
Credit: Marc Keinch

Through the highs and lows, the away day culture has becoming embedded into me. And I can now understand the expanding numbers of so called 'ground-hoppers'.
One such 'ground-hopper' that has recently come to my attention is the man behind 'AwayDays' - Ellis Platten (et al.), a man reflecting the passion and of away day culture and supporter identity - but also bringing us back down to earth, but also uncovering the elements of football, no matter how insignificant they may seem, that make you remember why you're a supporter, and not purely a customer in the clutches of corporate sporting giants, grinding down the relationship between club and supporter i.e. Sky and BT.  His videos also epitomise the fact you can't beat a live match day experience, yes of course watching a match in the comfort of your own living room is enjoyable, but it's nothing on the amplification of senses you get from being there - the sounds, the sites and the smells, along with the wit and jovial banter between himself, friends and other supporters also make me think of the relationship that I have gained and consolidated at the football over the years.
So overall, football is more than soulless atmospheres in newly constructed grounds - yes I'm talking to you MK Dons (sorry, I couldn't resist), or purely the result of the match. It is the loyalty, desire and sometimes even the pure spontaneity to do a 10 hour round trip on a frosty Tuesday night just to watch your team lose. It is the friendships and the comradery of supporters that occurs in terraces up and down the country. It is cultural intrigue of your new surroundings. But the overarching message is footballing devotion prevails over the ever growing corporate hegemony.

Awaydays can be found here:
Follow me on Twitter: @DLster

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