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Colin Payne doesn't understand the game, but he loves his wingers


I have a confession, quite a major one for someone so heavily involved in the production of a football fanzine (take a deep breath Colin, here goes, just say it)… I don’t really understand the game!

Of course I get the rudimentals, but I sometimes listen to people talking for literally hours about a game and I wonder if I have some form of tactical dyslexia. Whereas they can see a chess-like complexity of strategies and formations, I only see an ebb and flow. If the ball’s heading towards a goal, preferably the one Watford are attacking, I get excited, if that attack is moving at speed I get very excited! Of course every now and then I will coo and ahh with the best of them at a sublimely weighted pass from midfield, but on the whole I want that ball hurtling down the pitch deftly attached to some winger’s boot, again and again!

Heat maps and analytics are fine for those who enjoy such things, but for me the gauge of a great game is the rolling thunder of upturned seats as the Rookery rise up as one to see the action, which could be viewed just as well if they all stayed seated. This is what football is for me, the excitement, the togetherness, the sheer adrenaline rush of an attack on goal.

I listen to From the Rookery End following a match, with the guys chatting enthusiastically about everything, talking formations and tactics with a reassured ease and confidence that screams ‘we know what we’re saying, we get it’ and I wonder how I would cope with Jon’s microphone shoved in my face, my bluff called, you don’t know what you’re on about!

Yet my Saturdays (and Tuesday/Wednesday evenings) need no complex explanation, I don’t need to spend the match analysing formations or tactics. My needs are simple. Excite me! I know this borders on the naïve, a grown man watching the game through the eyes of a ten-year-old, but somehow I feel my match days are all the simpler for it. Clearly this is down to my not actually playing the game at a competitive level in my youth or, as today’s kids have, the luxury of having FIFA 75, yet it’s something I can live with quite happily.

I observe the guy who stands three rows in front of me, or used to when we actually went to football. He clearly understands the game, as he spends the entire match coaching the players, screaming instructions they have no chance of hearing, his face turning every shade from grey to puce during those ninety minutes, as his arms flail and his voice turns hoarse. He gets it, he understands the finer points, shares his knowledge with his clearly embarrassed daughter (and the rest of us), he could talk for hours on a podcast and genuinely love it, as much as he obviously adores the sound of his own voice. Back at the game, as he does his ‘thing’, I just share my dilemma with my son of whether to have a pie at half-time, or get some chips when we leave. Whatever it is that he’s seeing and getting so irate about, I’m missing, as the ball gets passed in triangles 40 yards from our own goal.

This is why I love my wingers, they meet my simple requirements again and again. Their brief is simple, excite Colin, get the ball in the box, then do it all over again. They work on percentages, you belt that ball at pace across that goal enough times, at some point it’s going to ping off a head, boot or arse. Colin will be happy. They only move in one direction – forwards. They are simple folk, single-minded and like a dog chasing a ball, they go again and again. The better ones, à la Gerri D, may cut in and do magical stuff weaving spells and balls into an opponent’s net, but on the whole they have that one simple job, and I understand it. Be it Stewart, Nigel, Nordin or Ismaïla they are my favourites, the maverick suppliers of joy for folk who played Crossfire rather than chess in their childhoods. The heroes in yellow that make football simple.