Friday, 29 September 2017

Why I don't like Derby Day

Lincoln City and Grimsby Town will contest a Lincolnshire derby at Blundell Park in the Football League tomorrow afternoon. The word 'derby' is supposed to trigger something bigger in the football fan's emotional spectrum. There are extra match-day abstractions heaped on to all the usual clichés about just how important these three points are. 'Rivalry', 'bragging rights' and even 'hatred' are thrown in to the conversational build-up, as sure as turkeys will have their throats coldly slit sometime in the early weeks of December.

Derby day - time to unearth
your statutory hatred
I can't help but feel we're being sold an artificial product when derby time rolls around. Of course the clubs hype it up to sell tickets, the media churn out hackneyed headlines to lure in more readers, and the League itself wouldn't dream of interfering to brake the Derby Day Express, because marketing and publicity are far more important nowadays than, say, the possibility of a clean, open game of football.

Yet cranking up the pre-derby rhetoric does the fixture no favours. All that furious noise puts sporting pressure on the teams, and the games will often be scrappy, hurried encounters. Players new to the area will be told "how much this game means" to the locals. They may convince themselves of the match's super-added importance in the interests of self-motivation. And then the two sides tear into each other and it's beyond anyone to even control the bloody ball.

As a Lincoln City fan, I have to confess that I don't hate Grimsby Town. I don't even dislike them. I grew up almost exactly half way
between the two, and most of the kids I went to school with supported Grimsby, who during that era were usually in a higher division. Sometimes I went with them, although I didn't much care whether Grimsby won or lost, and I'd squeak out a stunted cheer during the announcement of the half-time scores if Lincoln were ahead. Sometimes they came with me to Lincoln and did the same thing. We were just mates, going to games together.

Two towns separated
by 36 miles of the A46
How different are people from Grimsby compared with people from Lincoln? I ask, because I don't know the answer. Assuming you could make a generalised case for one group being different to the other (say, "Grimsby people prefer the coast. Lincoln people prefer the countryside"), would that difference make either group in some way better than the other? We all know the answer to that already.

Even as I write, there could be a group of people who follow the team in red and white stripes plotting to meet a group of people who follow the team in black and white stripes, and they may end up kicking the shit out of each other. Because... the Lincolnshire Wolds divide us. Because the Humber's wider than the Witham. Because both have a territorial claim on North Willingham. Because red is not black, and vice versa. Just, because.

You could say that I'm taking all the fun out of derby day, but for me there's very little enjoyment there to start with. We've let the game become over-loaded with a phoney significance. I feel compelled to watch through my fingers. I want Carlisle, Luton and Barnet back - just normal games without the added packaging (though still for exactly the same number of points).

Derby day's a big deal, but for reasons no one can really explain. We're all playing along with an imposed, fallacious idea that we are better, stronger people than our human counterparts just 30 miles across the county. Spurious hatred's become a habit, with sporadic but almost inevitable small-minded violence thrown in. I'm not buying it, though. I don't have the energy. Never did, and I suspect there may be others who feel the same way.

Derby Day. Because it's not really about the football, let's just get it over and done with.

The Quiet Fan was published by Unbound in autumn 2018 and is available here.

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