Thursday, 12 September 2013


I guess I'm what you'd traditionally term a 'bit of a geek'. I enjoy physics, video games, statistics, understand how to read weather charts, and until recently spent a lot of my spare time learning how to program. 'Until recently' as I now spend most of my time doing that.

For all that though, I do break with the exaggerated American high school stereotype in that I'm quite a sports fan, most of all football. It's actually quite a weird one to explain when someone points out the dichotomy of finding the pacing of most TV dramas to be so slow as to be unwatchable (and TV in the main to be a fools errand) yet enjoying watching 22 blokes run after a bit of leather for 90 minutes, while very little happens.

I think though much of the joy comes out of the unknown of it all. The emotional investment thrown in without having any sens of knowing the outcome. Films, TV, they have a patchwork of patterns that are possible or plausible, transferable regardless of the range of settings. Football though is so apparently limited in what's possible yet at any moment it seems that anything can happen. Defending a corner? pegged in your own box? Then whoosh, electric pace, five touches, 100 yards and shared euphoria.

So I do watch a fair amount of football. I also play it as much as I can too, which strangely seems to be more and more as I age, in contrast with the typical story. Tuesday evenings in a five-a-side league and what seems to be a growing number of Saturdays with The Orient-ear. A fans team representing the Leyton Orient fanzine of the same name. There's the occasional Wednesday evening kick-about too. You'd think with all that enthusiasm I'd be half decent too. Well, not really, but I do run a lot, and can make a 15 yards sideways pass, so about James Milner's level.


Sorry. Anyway where was I?

The thing about actually playing the game though, even at the lowly level that I do* is that you can appreciate how strangely difficult it is to do well. It really shouldn't be that hard, kick the round thing towards the big net. But yet with a bunch of other people trying to do the same thing, just for the other net, it becomes very tough indeed. Knowing where your team-mates are to pass to, bringing the ball under control so you can do something with it with limited time and space they become micro challenges each time.

So when I'm watching a game I love the little things. A 40 yard cross field pass is impressive, but making it stop dead as it reaches you makes me applaud. A wild slide tackle provides a visceral joy, but slowing a pacy winger to your speed and forcing a mistake is probably harder.

And then there's the community. As you may have noticed I'm an Orient fan (Spurs too as it happens, but that's another story) and the spirit in the stands, the knowing so many people in and around the ground, the shared emotion with thousands, (though still too few**) of people. It all adds up to an ultimately meaningless, but still utterly utterly vital part of life.

See you in the East Stand Saturday.

*and for that matter at the jumpers for goalposts level. One of the other fantastic things about football is how transferable it is. You could find a flatish bit of land in most places in the world and if you took a ball with you you'd find a game.

**If you hadn't heard of Orient before the last couple of years, you probably did (at least in passing) during the discussions regarding the Olympic stadium and the migration there of West Ham. Without bogging you down with all the ins and outs, the club barely gets enough fans through the door to pay the bills, and with a (potentially) premier league club so close, there's a fear attendances will dwindle further. The stadium has a capacity of just under 10,000. The average attendance is slightly more than a third of that.

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