For me it began in 1953 when Dad hauled me to one of the world’s oldest football grounds – the Drill Field, home of Northwich Victoria who then played in the Cheshire League. It was a derby game against the other local side, Witton Albion, and in football’s post-war boom, it drew a crowd of over 2,000. I can’t recall anything of the game, just the excitement of walking towards the stadium along the wind-swept main street with its newspaper posters ‘Empire News’ and ‘Evening Chronicle’, small independent shops – grocers, butchers, bakers etc – the belching exhausts of goods trucks, and the growing din of the fans as they converged from side streets to form a heaving mass of masculinity. Belted grey raincoats over grey flannel trousers, ‘donkey’ jackets and overalls, hats, caps, cigarette smoke, the perfume of stale beer, the laughter, the swearing, the jostling. Me, six years-old, bewildered and maybe a bit frightened of losing hold of Dad, hanging onto his coat-tails. And not a woman in sight.
And now I’m watching the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. Women everywhere. Players, coaches, match officials, TV presenters, fans. Football has come a long way during my lifetime. Not all for the good. But, though there are huge flaws and though, in my view, it has lost so many of the qualities which I once enjoyed, it has made remarkable progress and is potentially one of the world’s greatest unifying forces. As such it has forced me to review, and maybe to revise, the ‘good old times’. It’s a personal journey back to far-off grounds and matches but you are welcome to come along. Watch out for the pies though – there were no Health and Safety checks…..