I was proud to be a Wrexham fan on Wednesday, and that pride cushioned the blow of defeat considerably. But I’m already more proud today.
Today Wrexham’s fans, despite the fact that our season has been overshadowed by an over-arching concern about our cashflow, and we’ve had to dig into our pockets to keep the club going, will collect for our opponents Kettering in a desperate attempt to keep them afloat. Many feel that if we don’t go up we won’t be able to afford to keep this fine team together; yet we understand that the survival of another football club is far more important than that.
When I’m not masquerading as a football commentator/blogger/whinger, in my day job I’m a teacher. Last Thursday I was honoured to attend a superb assembly, which illustrated the value of appreciating the things that we hold in common with others. Brilliantly, the medium through which this message was conveyed was the Hillsborough disaster, and children dressed in Liverpool and Everton shirts showed how, although they might be rivals on the pitch, they could still be friends away from it, and appreciated that what we share as humans far outweighs the trivialities of sport. It delivered a powerful message to the kids, and encouraged me to reflect on what it means to be a football fan.
It’s absurd, of course, to compare the financial problems of a football club with that dreadful tragedy. However, the instinct amongst all decent people to cast aside tribal differences and be motivated by the values we share is common in both scenarios.
There’s a happy coincidence that our gesture comes in the same week that we played Brighton, as of course they awakened in us a realisation that what we have in common as footballl fans is a very precious thing. It was a bit like the awakening of socialism in the trenches of the First World War, when British soldiers sent over the top to inevitable death as they ran at enemy machine guns began to realise that they had more in common with the German soldiers who were facing the same fate than their own ruling classes, who glibly sent them to die.
Being a football fan, having a team to follow, to watch every week, is a delicious pleasure. The emotions we share across the game are a powerful binding agent, far stronger than any rivalries which might develop between us. Football’s a game; it’s fun. Any set of fans having that pleasure taken away from them is something we should combine to rally against.
I worry that, after the natural outpouring of grief and subsequent growth of unity in the game following Hillsborough, a lot of people are starting to forget these values. The game seems uglier than it has been for some time; both on the terraces and on the pitch there’s a snarl on its face. It’s natural that we are partisan during the game itself – heck, I still desperately want to win today despite Ketterings’ problems!-but it was far more prevalent ten years ago for fans to put that behind them at the final whistle. It seems appropriate to me that the kinship of fans seems to be more alive at the grassroots level then at the top of the game. The media stokes up the hatred and the rivalry in the Premiership, but down here it’s still real football being played and followed by real people. Perhaps Liverpool and Everton, two clubs rooted more firmly in their roots, and still united by those dreadful events, are exceptions.
There’s strength in unity, and football supporters have something very special in common, and little to differentiate us from each other. That’s why we should all dig deep today.