Friday, 19 September 2008

Box 45

There wasn't a crisp in sight.

There wasn't a football player either.

I'd hoped I'd get to watch the team practise but there were just two men with lawn mowers moving up and down, trimming the grass of the pitch into neat, broad stripes.

It was a meeting for work - an all-day meeting - and we were booked into Box 45 at the nearby football stadium. I don't know whose idea it was but it was the first time I've ever visited this ground. Football used to be cheap, I believe, but these days it's more expensive than opera.

I've only been to two proper matches and both were at the City Ground where, confusingly, Notts County plays. I went with my son because there were newspaper vouchers for cheap tickets for primary-age children and their parents. I loved it all - the occasional skill of the players (these days County isn't a great team), the sudden switches between mild boredom and intense excitement, the partisan cheers and witty comments when the ref's decision caused surprise.

Our seats were in the family stand, which is supposed to be the safe area, but neither match seemed dangerous. At one, County fans were rather depressed because the team was in immediate danger of relegation. Fortunately they weren't relegated that week though they did go down at the end of the season. The other was, I suspect, rather routine. But I wanted to join in the shouts and chants. I even wanted to express my disapproval of the ref after one bemussing decision, but my son found that too embarrassing. I couldn't follow the match as clearly as I could on television but it had a quality of rough immediacy. I felt I almost belonged.

After my son lost interest in football, I haven't been back. I don't think I want to see a Premiership match - there's not much opportunity of that, so it's just as well. But the less perfect playing of a lower division suits me well.

The Walkers Stadium, where Leicester play, is big, clean and glossy. There's even a restaurant called "Fusions". We moved along carpeted corridors, decorated with big, shiny photographs of teams and audiences in years past. Some of the recent photos seems style without content. "Look, he can do photoshop," one colleague commented. But the photos of teams of the 1930s and '40s looked like real football with serious, grown-up football players instead of the glamour stars of today. (I know that's a superficial judgment. I like the players in the older photos because they remind me of my dad.)

We were in Box 45 - the one box, so far as I could see, that give access to the outside. We watched the pitch and the mowers through huge picture windows. We weren't discussing football but something else entirely.

All day the mowers moved up and down, working, making sure the bright green pitch was clean and neat.


quakerdave said...

Lovely post. Love the sound of it. Doesn't seem to matter what the sport, the "grounds" always bring memories.

We're finally getting a "football" team hereabouts in the next two years. Won't be like the EPL variety, but it'll have to do till I get to London someday...

Kathz said...

The opening was probably a bit mystifying from the U.S. A "crisp" is what you would call a "potato chip". Walkers, the sponsors after whom the stadium is named, is a Leicester-based crisp manufacturer - very well known throughout Britain. Their advertisements used to use the footballer Gary Lineker, whose family still has a stall on Leicester Market.

quakerdave said...

Believe it or not, I knew about "crisps." Far too much time reading English soccer magazines, Nick Hornby novels, and watching English soccer on the telly.

And "Gavin and Stacey" on BBC America, as of late.