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Beating the Traffic: We're Off!

Is half-time really too early to leave a game? Colin Payne argues it’s not.


For the purposes of transparency and openness I’ll jump straight to the end. No preamble, no excuses, no justification. I left the Hull game at half-time. There, it’s out there, in the public domain, the ultimate beat-the-traffic departure. There had been no phone call informing me that some disaster had befallen the frozen pipework at home causing it to explode, creating floods and mayhem. No tannoy announcement letting me and the stadium know that Mrs Payne had miraculously beaten the menopause and gone into labour. No prearranged clash of diaries enforcing some compromise to be somewhere more pressing, and appealing. There are no dramatic events or even rational reasons that follow I’d simply had enough. Or, more accurately, we had simply had enough, as my daughter Sophie was as culpable in this situation as I was.

The weather had played a part, and standing on a sub-zero Vicarage Road hawking the wonderful Watford Treasury for the best part of two hours beforehand hadn’t helped, but that wasn’t the whole reason, of course not I’d endured far colder days than this and toughed out the full 90 minutes. The turgid football wasn’t the total cause either, as someone who has witnessed a Watford containing Jamie Moralee, Mick Quinn and Kerry Dixon all within one year I’ve experienced the lows, my God I have. This was something more.

As a flag-waving, pom-pom shaking cheerleader for the Championship, I love the fact that on any day any team can beat any other. I love the level playing field, the competitiveness, the sheer not-quite-good-enough-ness of it all. But… that Sunday was the perfect storm of things leading to me really not giving a toss.

It being a Sunday didn’t help, while the aforementioned cold and the fact I could have stayed until Christmas Eve and not seen a goal added nothing to the appeal, but there was something crushingly disengaging about the whole thing. The 1881 manfully declared their hatred for Luton, as they appear to be doing more and more often, but with little conviction; the ground was enveloped in a cloak of apathy – including those on the pitch bar a couple of exceptions; and generally, despite the multi-million-pound consequences hanging on each dropped point, no one seemed to care. Well, many people probably did, but we clearly didn’t. We felt removed from the events being played out before us. A father and daughter in complete agreement. The affinity I usually have to those 11 men in yellow had evaporated like my breath on the winter’s air. Was it my age? My apparently developing loss of patience? Or just the fact I was cold, bored and experiencing the early stages of heartburn? Whatever it was, I realised for once I really would be better off not being there. I’ve never felt that before, and really hope I won’t again.

Nearing the end of a first half where the true highlight had been a Wenzel’s chicken and bacon baguette Sophie had picked up for me beforehand (hence the heartburn), I turned to her and said merely “Can I say something?”

She replied, “Is it ‘Can we go home?’ If so, yes please!”

Was it a joke, or a pitiful cry for help? It didn’t matter, the words had been said!

We endured the cruelly inflicted five added minutes, gathered our stuff and made for the exits. I didn’t even know leaving at half-time was a ‘thing’, but it must be, as around two dozen other lost souls exited the Rookery as we did. We walked up the surreally deserted Occupation Road; only a man in a hi-vis jacket picking up litter walked in the opposite direction. We passed the burger stalls and learnt that the burgers folks buy coming out at the end, the actual end of the game, will have been sitting there for an hour piled high and sizzling – who’d have thought? The Vicarage Road precinct was surprisingly busy with groups of people outside the small bars, even in that cold. We were in the car before the game restarted, and having endured audibly an only slightly better, yet more frustrating, second half we were home before the final whistle.

The strange thing was I had really been looking forward to this game, but never can I remember being so glad to get home.