It is about five years since I fell out of love with football. Up until that point, though, I was pretty much as mad about the game as the next man or boy. I even bought a tiny portable TV about the size of a small radio so that I could watch games in the office.
It all began when I was a young lad in Scotland, kicking a ball about in the garden with Dad, but I only really began to understand the game when we moved back to England and I went to a school where they actually played the game.
One summer, we were visiting my Nana at her home on the South Coast. It was a warm summer day and we were all at the beach, sitting around Nana’s beach hut. I was reading the local newspaper – I used to have the time to read newspapers then! – and a notice caught my eye. It informed me that Brighton & Hove Albion, the local professional football team, would be playing Southend United in the League Cup later that week.
This was an exciting possibility. I had never seen a real live football match. In fact, I had played at least ten times as many games of Subbuteo than I had seen football matches on television, and that was just on that particular holiday.
I immediately began a campaign of concerted pestering. I wasn’t going to let this chance go without a fight. I think that, in the end, Dad agreed to take me just to shut me up.
The game was at Brighton’s Goldstone Ground. Even then, it was a little ramshackle. I remember that we were in a stand at one end, under a tin roof which seemed low even to me. The crowd cannot have been huge, as I was able to watch the game quite easily provided that I sat on one of the crush barriers to see. As for the game, well, I was just thrilled to be there. I don’t know if it was a good match or not. I remember that Brighton won 2-1 (which was the right result, I was backing the home team) and that Brian Horton scored both of their goals. One of those was a penalty. Disappointingly, it was at the opposite end to the one that I was stood at, but Dad hoisted me up so that I could get an uninterrupted view of the ball beating the goalkeeper.
I have not been to a football match for many years, but I will never forget that first time.