For about a week at primary school, I supported a football team. I think the idea was to become friendlier with a chap in my class called Christopher, and so I supported his team (Aston Villa).
That was some 20 years ago: we're not friends now and I haven't supported a team since. It just never happened. I can't think of a particular reason why, and unless there's a memory I've deeply repressed, there's no traumatic event that turned me off what I'm told is called "the beautiful game" (I've never heard anyone call it that in conversation). I just never got into it, the way some people never get into baking, or skateboarding, or beatboxing, or taking part in re-enactments of historical battles.
As I've explained in conversation countless times, I don't dislike football (although growing up near Wembley, I occasionally saw the uglier side of fandom). I follow England in the various tournaments, watch the World Cup, and can take genuine pleasure in watching a game on telly if for whatever reason I need to.
But I just never got into it.
And now I want to.
This isn't part of my "quarter-life crisis": the tear-gas-enveloped, waterlogged thicket through which I've been scrabbling around like a crestfallen mole for years. This isn't a search for meaning, validation, or acceptance (that takes the form of insomnia, running, smoking, and not smoking).
I'm just curious about a few things. The passion and tribalism it arouses has always appealed and appalled in equal measure. There's a whole world of workplace banter I've not visited. I've always avoided pubs showing football. I've never even been to a football game.
To take one example, I know for a fact there's a different ending to a conversation I've had countless times. It's almost always with a bloke who's a friend of a friend (or whoever). It's in a pub (or wherever), and it's a birthday thing (or whatever). None of the other introductory topics have borne any fruit. His job really is boring, and I'm not in the mood to play mine up. Neither of us met the mutual friend when we picked up the wrong rucksacks on our way to an achingly cool music festival, so there's no story to tell there. Each senses the other is a nice chap, but each would rather be talking to someone else. We look around the room, smiling politely at nothing in particular. It gets more and more awkward. All that remains is to end the encounter politely, but in a way that doesn't draw attention to how just awkward the whole thing has been. In different circumstances, going in for a kiss might be the easiest way of moving this along. A quick scan of the face, just in case I have to - anything to end this agony. No.
The chat stumbles along in fits and starts. Then the moment comes. He thinks he's onto a winner with this one: 5th gear on the open road, a comfortable pair of summer sandals you can walk for miles in, a cup of tea and a nice sit down, the party playlist everyone loves, the one with all the classics.
"So did you see the game last night?"
My heart is booted across the pitch. It pauses high up there in the goal for a moment, just long enough to pick up an imprint of the criss-cross stringy goaly netting stuff. And then it falls useless to the ground. Back of the net.
So there you go. Mostly, I want to be a football fan so I can avoid crashingly awkward conversations in pubs with people I don't even want to get to know in the first place.
What I need to get started is a club to support. For practical purposes it needs to be a London one.
Suggestions please?Suggest a correction