As I described on these pages back in the autumn (https://football-nerd.org/2017/10/06/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-a-dilemma-of-hopelessness-and-questioned-loyalty/), the increasing obsession brought about by Mrs Football Nerd and my continued attendance at Leyton Orient has built a major football-supporting dilemma for me. With Orient having been relegated out of the League for the first time in 112 years at the end of last season, they now feature in the same division as my hometown club Tranmere Rovers; meaning that for the first time in my football-watching life I am having to deal with the very real challenge of two teams that I not only follow but actively support playing each other.
I just about managed to negotiate the first meeting thanks to the game being played in midweek up on the Wirral, meaning that I had to ‘settle’ for only watching it on TV in the relative safety of my own home. At that stage I was still in the very early formative weeks of my fledgling Orient obsession, and so I was just about able to retain my previous loyalty and as a result erred slightly on the side of Rovers. Even then though I can’t say that I genuinely enjoyed the experience and watched the match in a weird paradoxical vacuum where I wanted one to team to win and the other not to lose.
However since then things have moved on significantly: Mrs Football Nerd and I have become increasingly regular attenders at Brisbane Road, we now have our ‘usual seats’ and matchday routine and, most bizarrely through a strange quirk of fate, I have even featured in the Orientear fanzine. It seems safe to say that we have fully made the transition from casual followers to bona fide O’s fans in the space of just a few short months. I guess that is what football obsession does to you!
On the face of it, this turn of events wouldn’t normally have caused too much consternation, however looming just over the horizon has been the spectre of Tranmere’s impending visit to East London to face Orient. It probably reveals quite a lot about me that this was even a cause for concern; most normal people would have looked forward to the game as a simple chance to watch a match between two teams for which they have an affinity, but as most reading this will know, the mind of a football obsessive doesn’t function in the same way as an ordinary person. Our brains are wired differently, with the result that fairly innocuous situations take on a whole new depth and meaning.
Whereas in previous years, Tranmere’s visits to London and surrounding areas have provided a great opportunity for the Rovers-following alumni from Our Kid’s and my school to congregate and catch up over a few pints and a game of football; now it was bringing with it choices that no football fan should have to face. Not the least of these being where I was going to sit? What kind of husband would even contemplate abandoning his wife to sit with his brother and mates with the away fans? To my eternal shame I have to confess that, if only for a fleeting moment, the possibility did flash across my mind!
If sitting with the away fans wasn’t going to be option what was I going to do? How could I support Rovers amongst the faces that I have seen on a fairly regular basis since the start of the season? Somehow that would have felt disloyal, as if I had been living a lie for the past six months. It would call into question the veracity of my claim to be a true football supporter and make me as fickle as the modern type of ‘fan’ which I hold in such disdain. Hell if I was going to do that I might as well go the whole hog and buy myself a half and half scarf!
At the same time however there was no way that I could look myself in the mirror if I committed the cardinal football sin of changing teams. In essence I was trapped, the very real embodiment of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
As the game drew closer I cursed the Premier League fixture list for conspiring against me by scheduling the North London Derby as a 12:30 kick-off and thereby removing a handy get out clause in which I could have excused myself to watch that instead. An added dose of misery to what I was anticipating being a difficult enough day already.
In the end I decided that the only way to handle the day was to approach it as a strict neutral, adopting the same mind-set that football journalists must maintain in covering a game and trying to enjoy it for the spectacle and contest it is. To reassure myself further I suggested to anyone asking that I was hoping for a high-scoring draw and a cracker of a match.
As it turned out it was a decent match with both teams playing some good stuff, even if it wasn’t quite the high-scoring draw I was hoping for; Dan Holman’s goal early in the second half cancelling out Ritchie Sutton’s opener for Rovers on the stroke of half-time.
Both sets of fans left the ground content enough with their team’s performance; including yours truly who was simply relieved to have survived the experience, happy that both sides had given a good account of themselves, and looking forward to being able to focus on each team’s fortunes in their own right for the rest of the season.
It seems unlikely that Orient will be returning to the promised land of the Football League this season, if Tranmere do I think it is probably safe to say that no one will be more relieved than me as it will mean that I am able to avoid a repeat performance of this football-supporting torture next season.
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