The term ‘snowflake’, despite being a colloquialism in itself has had its definition revised – or rather tarnished – over time, in the sense that it was once used to label – and let’s be honest, shame – a certain type of person (often a student) who is offended by everything and who emits the type of attitude that suggests everything and everyone should pander to their views. It now appears to be thrown at anyone who happens to be offended by anything at all, regardless of severity, or who appears to show a moment of mental fragility.
Where am I going with this? Well, the point gains relevance to the main subject of this post when related to the childish and abrasive bravado evident inside football grounds. You know what, as well? I’ve been there and been a part of it. Call it hypocrisy if you like, but I prefer to call it learning from experience. I’ve shouted abuse at opposition fans from a mere few yards away with no segregation in place. I’ve had things thrown at me when I’ve flung my limbs around like a lunatic in the middle of the home end at FC United of Manchester, I’ve stood in the middle of the stand at Darlington and sung ‘You let your club die’ to the laughter and cringing of my fellow supporters, in order to be deliberately antagonising.
Where you decide to draw the line is up to you. I find football banter to be absolutely shit anyway, but I’ve decided now that taking it a step further and maliciously winding people up inside and outside of the football ground isn’t for me. I even partially regret behaving how I did and I didn’t even cause anyone any physical harm. I don’t feel regret because I’ve been made to feel that way by so-called ‘snowflakes’. It’s my own conscience and perception of myself. I still believe there needs to be an aspect of intimidation inside football grounds, but violence and acting like a pillock in an attempt to partially ruin other people’s days isn’t my cup of tea. Particularly when you risk being punched in the face. Having mental health problems is always liable to give you that kind of perspective, particularly when you’ve gone from being the antagoniser, a pain in the arse to makeshift stewards drafted in from the local nightclubs, to the subconsciously intimidated.
As you go through life, your outlook changes and you want different experiences. In some ways, I feel that some of the experiences I want have been taken away from me by the way my brain now interprets and processes different situations. Experiences like crowd-surfing on the crest of a wave of pandemonium in a Championship play-off semi-final following a goalmouth scramble. Even the simple experiences like hearing Underworld – ‘Born Slippy’ echoing around four stands prior to kick off alongside a rising chorus of ‘Yooouu reeeedds’. It’s often the small things you miss the most.
It’s a shame that my mind interprets the thousands of fans around me on a Forest matchday as a threat. I get tense and I worry. Often it’s about what they might think of me but there are times where I am unable to coherently process what my worries are about or how they began. They rush upon me so quickly that I feel powerless and overwhelmed by them a lot of the time.
I am a Forest fan, but first and foremost, I’m a football fan. I can listen to all the games I want, I can watch as many games as I want on the TV. It’s just not the same. I can’t do without watching games in the flesh, whether the venue has no stands or four. Subsequently, I’ve made the decision to hunt around for a local(ish) non-league side to follow.
Following a non-league side in the past, meant a lot of travelling. Boston United aren’t local to Stafford, after all. I don’t regret it, I had my reasons, it was a fun experience, I’ve gained a lot of funny, excruciating and strange memories from it and I’ve visited a lot of places I wouldn’t even have considered going to otherwise, as well as a lot of places I never want to visit again (I’m looking at you, Gainsborough). Realistically though, was it ever going to be something that lasted for the long term? Probably not, and maybe I should have looked closer to home. I couldn’t help but go with them at the time though. The travelling helped me to meet new people after all, which was one of the reasons I took a step back from Forest in the past (albeit one of the less influential reasons). I was single and I lived in Leicestershire. There were very few Forest fans nearby who would go to games with me.
Flipping to the present once more, alongside my desire to become comfortable within football grounds again, practicality and first impressions are the key criteria this time. That narrows the list down quite dramatically. While I have created a list of different teams I want to sample, I want to leave a lot of this down to first impression because there’s still the sense of your team picking you. This isn’t just a case of ‘supporting your local team’ (God, I despise that line). It’s a predicament, because I have three local teams. One of them, I’ve even worked for in a scouting capacity. Only problem is, that was Stafford Rangers. I don’t particularly like Stafford Rangers, nor does my girlfriend. So I’ve swapped them out and this is my list. The revised three, if you like:
- Stafford Town
- AFC Bridgnorth
I’ve personally visited the two Stafford-based sides on my own before, so I know what they’re all about, what the facilities are like and the standard of football. However, my girlfriend has an input too and she wants a place that has a maximum of two stands. Maybe that’s another aspect of this that makes it so fun, having a second point of view. While I’ve been groundhopping in the past, she hasn’t. She hasn’t really watched football at such a low level either, so it’s all new to her. The world where ugly bastards aren’t treated with ridicule like they would be in the Football League, but are instead loved by the supporters as a part of the local community. We both want to have a local team we can go and watch; a team that we both like and genuinely want to do well.
Whilst picking a team in Stafford has its benefits, getting out of town can be nice. Bridgnorth makes sense due to how nice the place is, the number of pubs in the town and the AFC Bridgnorth aren’t romping away from everyone else in the league, they’re mid-table. So we wouldn’t be jumping on a bandwagon. The same sort of applies to Brocton and Stafford Town, although Town are fourth in the MFL at the time of writing this.
Over the coming few weeks, I’m going to be marking each of the three clubs against each other as we both work towards a choice.
To be quite honest, this is as much about getting out of the house and building confidence in everything around me again as it is about simply watching football. The smaller crowds will help and having been to watch Stafford Town on my own fairly recently as well as watching Wolves Casuals away at Shifnal with my girlfriend, I have the feeling that it’ll be nice to get back on the non-league circuit regularly again.