10 Wonders of Match Day - Green Green Grass of Home
Nick Catley looks at what makes going to football special
I never read the Chronicles of Narnia series as a child. Partly this was because I didn’t want to be subject to the treatment handed out to a poor kid on my FA Fun Week – a coaching course designed to get us out of our parents’ hair for a week in the summer holidays, a sort of less extreme summer camp. He spent each day’s breaks reading The Silver Chair rather than boasting about how much his trainers cost, behaviour seen as frankly subversive in my peer group of pre-teen boys (and one girl, largely ignored as an alien species, whose bravery I now look back on with serious incredulity and respect). Their reaction was much as you’d imagine. All were brought up to know that violence was wrong, but also believing that pretty much any other abuse was fair game, an eighties trait thankfully not among those likely to be nostalgically remembered by a series of talking heads on BBC2. Mostly, though, there was no need to bother with the multidimensional-wardrobe-based shenanigans of a fictional realm when I had my own portal to a fantasy world. I still do. You can pinpoint the exact moment you enter it. It isn’t always going through the turnstile – that’s just entering a building, not another level of reality. Instead, you need to head on in, walk up the steps…
…and there it is. Your first glimpse of that huge field, waiting to be filled. A tiny sliver at the top of your eyeline to start with, growing to dominate your field of vision, spreading out in front of you. I savour it. Every single time.
It’s different depending on where you are. Away, you’re not always sure which part of the ground you’re about to emerge into. At home, you know precisely. Either way, it takes my breath away. It’s something that features incredibly strongly in my early memories of football. Long before I can remember individual players or goals, I remember this. In my mind’s eye, that initial vision was always, always the brightest imaginable green, even though I’ve seen enough contemporary videos of players battling through mudbaths to realise this often wasn’t the case.
I don’t know why this moment is so special. Somehow it sums up the point of the whole thing – your transformation to another world for what clocks later suggest to be two Earth hours or so. Football time is completely different, divided into 90 rather than 24. The length of ten minutes depends entirely on the scoreline. Watches cease to make sense, no more relevant than they are the moment you step off a plane in Australia.
It also helps that football stadiums tend to be in built-up areas. This gaping hole in the urban landscape just shouldn’t be there, and the fact it is acts as a constant source of wonder. Normally I’m a big fan of grounds that show you their roots, that grant you a peek into the highlights of the communities that built them (or, in Watford’s case, the YMCA). But this is a moment that’s actually enhanced, made more intense, by a complete absence of the outside world – you, and 20,000 others, have decided to cut yourselves off for the afternoon.
It’s not an original observation – I’ve heard others describe this opening sight of the pitch in hushed, awed tones, and it’s captured well in the film Fever Pitch. But these are my top moments of match day, and this is undoubtedly one of them.
I’ve already said that I savour it every single time. And it’s true. But I’m willing to bet I’ll savour the next time just that little bit more...