It’s been a while….and quite a lot has changed.
Throughout the season I referred to the fact that the threat of the other woman – rugby, in particular Saracens – was in danger of coming between myself and a lifetime love affair with Chesham United. Surely it is impossible to comprehend that the passion, the pride and the raw emotion that is felt watching Chesham could be replicated when watching a load of huge blokes chase around an egg-shaped ball following more overscrupulous game rules than anyone could possibly ever pretend to understand?
In short, the answer is “yes, it can”.I know, I didn’t believe it myself either, but it can. It has.
If you have read any of the other articles on this blog site you will know all about how I have been slowly sucked in. My son started playing rugby, his team had a couple of festivals at Saracens; the kids played on the same 3G pitch that the Premiership club played on; they got to watch the match afterwards, go on the pitch afterwards, meet the players, get their photographs taken with star players, cover their shirts in autographs and made to feel welcome, and wanted at the club.
Which rugby playing kid would not love that? And what rotten git of a father would not go along and support his son in this? Embrace it? Even try to enjoy it for the sake of their child?
I did all that.
And then went a step further.
A couple of seasons ago, the year we were introduced to Saracens via the kids’ festivals, I found that from February to April we were going to most the home matches, and we also went to Twickenham for the Premiership Final; oh, and we also went all the way to Cardiff for the European Cup Final – A match lost to Johnny Wilkinson’s Toulon.So if we were starting to do that, perhaps we could get a season ticket the following year? Just as a one-off. Something a bit different. For various off the field reasons I was not really loving the Chesham United thing at the time, perhaps a break would do us both good.
So we did it. My son Ben and I became Saracens season ticket holders. It felt strange. I felt guilty. Dirty. How could I do this to Chesham United? It was not that long ago that I was Chairman, the proudest supporter you could ever possibly meet. To Chair the club I spent a lifetime loving – What an honour, what a dream…but maybe a warning to other dreamers…possibly also the beginning of the end.
The things I used to love doing, they became a chore. The things people used to thank me for…I was now getting criticised for. The things that used to unite us as supporters, was dividing us, fragmenting the nucleus of the club that had kept it going for so long, been so strong, and driven us to the point where supporters could actually run the club.
It didn’t work. Everyone will have their reasons why it did not work. There is more to running a football club than most people imagine, and I am sure it is the same at at rugby club, especially a Premiership club like Saracens…a team that reached a European Final at the Millennium Stadium. But you know what, at Saracens, I’m just a supporter again. Johnny Punter on the terrace. Players wages? Not my problem. None of it is my problem. I just go along, enjoy the games, hope I am looked after as a supporter and enjoy the occasion (and the company)…A bit like when I fell in love with a little club like Chesham United.
So we did our year as season ticket holders. And when it came to the European competition we took the opportunity to go to Paris to watch a quarter-final against Racing Metro. Because it is rugby and not football, and because the kids feel safe and the wife feels comfortable, we went as a family. A long weekend, all the tourist sites in a manic rush of a day and then onto the match the following day. A most memorable match. A truly emotional match as Saracens won it with the very last kick of the game.
It was the first sign of how much the club was starting to mean to me as I genuinely felt the nerves as Marcelo Bosch stepped up to kick a monstrous penalty that flew over the posts to silence the French crowd that had resorted to boo-ing and whistling as he stepped up in a desperate attempt to salvage a win that they had looked favourites for throughout the game.
The BT Sport cameras picked out Ben and I in the crowd for this moment of the game. A before and after. Hands clenched praying…followed by scenes of sheer elation. The pictures even made BBC News. Friends I had not heard from in years were texting saying “Are you in Paris? Did I just see you on tv?”
A magical moment. It’s up there with Chesham United play-off wins, Championship wins and the odd glorious cup moment. It was magical. (In fact as I write this now I am wearing a t-shirt that commemorates that moment – A picture of Bosch’s kick on the front and on the back it has in big letters: BOSCH-ED, 80 MINUTES. Love it).
Sarries lost in the semi-final of the European Cup last season, but went on to win the Premiership Final. Ben and I went to the semi-final of the Premiership play-offs.Having just scraped into the top four on the last day of the regular season, we (see how it has become “we” and not Saracens) were away to Northampton (who beat us in the final the previous year). What a game. What a feeling. Tense. Unbelievably tense. The atmosphere was intimidating, but friendly. A non-league football fan will understand that more than a fan of a professional club. It is ok to be biased, it is ok to support you team, question the ref politely and jovially be over passionate in your support. But that does not have to be threatening.
Saracens were awesome. WE were awesome. At times I genuinely felt sick with nerves. Maybe it was because my Ben was sat next to me and I knew what it meant to him. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to experience some of those emotions that I have felt over the years as a passionate lover of Chesham United.
Unless you love a team you support, you will never understand. It’s a feeling that is incomparable. A feeling that has brought me so much joy over the years. Ben deserved to experience that feeling.
So it’s all about Ben you see. I’m doing it for my son. And I am. I know there will come a time when he will not want to go to games with his Dad (though I still treasure the time I spend with my Dad when we go to Chesham matches). I’m doing it for the kids.
So we renewed our season tickets for this year. And Saracens have done well. Very well. In fact you could say they have become one of the most formidable sporting teams in Europe at the moment.
But I’m still doing it just for Ben, right?Well, yes, of course…Well, OK, maybe I do get some enjoyment out of it. Quite a lot actually. OK, I love it. And yes, I admit, a couple of weeks ago I did go to the Worcester away game without Ben. Yes, I know, that sounds horribly mean, but hey, confession time, I have become a fan as well.
Ben does not travel well (or never used to as a toddler) so as I was going on a minibus from Hemel, meeting in the pub at 8.30am, I was able to persuade him to allow me to go to an away match, a jolly boys outing, without him. Yes, that meant no longer could I hide behind the “I’m doing it for my son” pretence. Worcester away in May was my rugby equivalent of Merthyr away with Chesham in September.
Fantastic company, a great laugh and all based around that scenario I embrace – Travelling away to support a team you love and meeting up with other people that share that passion.
Merthyr away with Chesham this year was brilliant. The overnight stay was fantastic. Getting to Merthyr in time to hit the Wetherspoons by 11.00am and all the humorous events that followed…Culminating in a sing-song in a local bar followed by heading for a curry…At 7.00pm…It felt like 11.00pm…was brilliant, and I would do it over again and again.
The Worcester trip also started at a Wetherspoons…in Hemel. Fifteen of us on a mini-bus, making up a part of 150 Sarries fans that had booked seats together to try and create a bit of an atmosphere. I felt like the newbie. I’ve done this many times for football, but it was a new experience following rugby, particularly without Ben (Though a couple of pints with breakfast at 8.30am did help to break the ice!).
In defence of my fathering, I did get permission from Ben to go on this particular jolly. Though he was slightly resentful, having a month earlier experienced the joys of an away match when he and I went to the game at Bath on a Friday night. Again a part of a group booking to keep the fans together. On this occasion we spent quality father/son time during the day, visiting the baths and doing the tourist bit before meeting up in the pub and going to the evening game…and what an atmosphere.
It felt like non-league footy. Meeting in the town. Drinks in the pub. Gathered together at the game. It’s always different at an away match isn’t it? A few drinks, sat together, in the minority; keen to show your support to the team. A bit of a sing-song: “We’re Just a small club in London“.
What a great away day. I loved it. Ben loved it. So what a dreadful Dad I am going to Worcester without him?
Well actually, I don’t think so.Whilst all this is going on Saracens were once again enjoying success in the European competition. Having won six out of six in the group stage (including impressive “doubles” over Ulster and Toulouse), we had a home quarter-final win over Northampton and then I took Ben to Reading, the Majedski Stadium, for a semi-final win which earned Sarries a place in the final against Racing Metro…in Lyon.
In the past two years Ben and I have gone through a lot, adapting to the idea of falling in love with a rugby team. Meeting fellow supporters, experiencing the love (there are many similarities to non-league football) and feeling part of a club. In amongst all that Ben has been to training sessions on the pitch, met the players, toured the ground and been to coaching sessions from the international players including the likes of George Kruis and Maro Itoje (I have a signed photo of Ben with Maro from a year or so ago, now European Player of the Year, still so young and destined to become one of the best players in the world!).
This is no longer a passing fling because I am unhappy with Chesham United. This is the real thing.
A European Cup final in Lyon? Bit of a nightmare to get to…but we had to do it didn’t we? Of course we did. It was never in doubt. We had planned the journey, via Geneva, even prior to the semi-final v Wasps. In fact we were still in the ground at Reading when I called Mrs C to confirm “We won…book those flights!”
Lyon was amazing. A road trip. Quality time with my son. A big occasion. Supporting a team I love. The passion. Tension. Excitement. Nerves. The indescribable feeling of watching your team become European Champions. Beating a French side. In France. Outnumbered by at least 10:1 in a partisan crowd. Being part of amazing support for your team. Just a small club in London.
The Lyon trip itself is worth a blog on it’s own…