Alex Miller's Sheffield Wednesday column: Just a bunch of blokes kicking a ball about? Absolutely not

Seriously, why do we bother with it all?

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 5:00 pm

Have you ever climbed into your seat at a football ground and had that moment of existential crisis?

“It’s just some men kicking a ball about isn’t it? I travelled for over three hours to get here. This costs me a fortune. What does it all mean?”

And, when you think about it, they are all very fair points. What the hell is it all about?

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Sheffield Wednesday fans will be back in stadiums soon enough.
Sheffield Wednesday fans will be back in stadiums soon enough.

Sat in press boxes up and down the country over the past year-and-a-bit, the spectacle torn away every time players awkwardly fetched their own errant balls from barren terraces, the thought has no doubt crossed the mind of every lucky reporter able to be there.

The experience of being there, of watching these talented few belt it about, of being able to hear every echo of complaint at a miss-placed pass, debases the professional game for what it is when the glitter of adoration is rolled away.

It really is just lads in stripes kicking a ball around.

Every week towards the end of last season, wandering up to complete our pre-match commitments for The Star, Joe and I noticed a group of middle-aged men that met in Hillsborough Park for a kickabout, primed with pop-up goals and hangovers.

Watching that for a moment or two, and then fast forwarding to the action inside the ground, there was a realisation that these two meet-ups were not dissimilar, and that without fans in the ground, the difference really is limited to the fact that the ones with six-packs and matching outfits do it better – an awful lot better – than the ones sweating lager.

There’s a reason they pumped crowd noise over the action on the telly, after all. Without the adoration, the illusion crumbles.

I’ve been reminded of all this in recent weeks watching the Euros. The crowds are back, which is wonderful, and it makes a whole world of difference.

But the shared experience of putting on your shirt, of going to the pub or a mates house and sitting together, oohing and arring, begging your team to do the right thing? THAT is the reason football is a worldwide obsession.

It’s not about stepovers or overhead kicks or Kane or Sterling or Bannan. It’s not about Southgate or Moore or what they say in the ITV studio.

It’s about the first pint at the Barrack, the fish butty at Four Lanes, the wheezing march up the stairs to the stadium’s top tier. It’s about that bloody Jeff Beck song and hugging the stranger next to you when Windass scores.

The next time Sheffield Wednesday play at Hillsborough, supporters will be back in the ground. It will be a different team managed by a different man playing in a different division, but it will be theirs.

In absolute isolation, professional football may just be a bunch of blokes kicking a ball about an awful lot better than those men at the park.

But fans and noise and everything that is wrapped around it makes it the best thing in the world.

Why do we bother with it all? It’s an irrational sense of belonging. And it’s absolutely glorious.

See you at Hillsborough. It’s been rubbish without you.

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