Born again football fan

Those who know me well know that I am often sentimental about the past. That's why I love retro experiences so much.

We are only a quarter-way through 2014 and already there have been two notable blasts from the past for me.

The first was buying English pop group Depeche Mode's album Black Celebration on vinyl again.

I recently started buying new vinyl reissues of classic albums, and these days, they are ostentatiously pressed on thick plastic vinyl, priced three times as much for suckers like me. But the childish glee with which I unwrapped it brought me right back to 1986, when I blew a week's worth of recess money on the album.

The second big retro experience of 2014, however, has been altogether more unexpected.

It had been slowly building up over the weeks, but Liverpool's thrashing of the once-mighty Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford last week confirmed the reawakening of a part of me that I thought had long been left behind.

It surprises even me that I used to be a football fan.

It was the early 1980s and I was in primary school. And being a Catholic boys' school, it was football-mad.

Every year for six years, nearly every physical education lesson was an hour of round-robin football between the three teams of players that made up one class of 40 students.

Growing up, I was a small skinny kid who couldn't tackle another player to save my life. I was also particularly bad at heading the ball, so by process of elimination, I ended up out on the right wing.

At home, I was a bit of a sad football geek. I used to cut out the results and league tables published every Monday in The Straits Times and paste them into exercise books. I would read the books over and over again, reliving a team's glory as it moved up the table or its agony as it went through a patch of poor form.

In the upper primary years, some of my classmates got into a fantasy role-playing game called Dungeons And Dragons. It was played with special dice that had more than the usual six sides.

I bought those dice to engage in my own fantasy game - a make-believe league where the dice would determine the scores of the matches I had lined up and on which my carefully calculated league tables would be based.

Like many youngsters of the day, I was a big supporter of Liverpool, a team which just could not stop winning everything in sight.

I idolised many of the team's stars of that period - prolific strikers Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish (who later became manager of the club) and even erratic and flamboyant goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar.

I remember staying up late or waking up in the middle of the night to watch the FA and League Cup finals "live" (yes, they were 100 per cent free then). And on Sunday mornings, I would catch the TV round-up of the week's action without fail.

My mum had a close friend who lived and worked in London at the time. There was much excitement one year when she came back on holiday bearing two gifts for me that reflected my twin obsessions in life: a plastic folder bearing the cover of Duran Duran's seminal album Seven And The Ragged Tiger and a kid-sized Liverpool FC scarf.

Then, just as suddenly, my enthusiasm for the game faded. In 1985, I went on to Catholic High School where basketball and table tennis, not football, were the games of choice.

Since then, I have never looked back on my secret football-loving days nor have I wanted to.

As an adult, I fell in with a circle of friends for whom football was anathema. We were a demographic that was more Madonna than Maradona, more Gaga than Kaka.

Fergie was either an unglamorous duchess or a glamorous singer that made an album called The Dutchess, and if we were ever caught talking about a Beckham, it would undoubtedly be Victoria, not David.

So you can imagine the shock my fashionista-shopaholic friend had one night in January when I had drinks with her.

Her Liverpool-loving husband was complaining about the lack of sleep after watching a game the previous night, when I interrupted.

"5-3, Stoke City", I muttered quietly.

My friend literally sat up.

"You mean, you actually know?" she gasped. "Who are you and what have you done with my friend?"

That was when I had to come out of the closet - the creepy exercise books, the cherished football scarf, the knowledge that Liverpool had won a treble in 1983-84... all the skeletons came spilling out in a cathartic gush.

Yes, I have been secretly monitoring English Premier League results, switching screens at work, hoping no one will notice.

Yes, I have The New Paper's Football Kaki app on my phone and am even considering - horrors! - subscribing to Mio Stadium.

As the season draws to a close and Liverpool actually have a chance of becoming champions, I am buying small bets against them in a classic sign of growing emotional attachment - so that I feel less awful if they lose their matches.

I can't help it. That's how extraordinary this football season has been for me and countless other out-and-proud Liverpool fans worldwide.

In a long Facebook post which I read from start to finish, S. - a friend who lives and works in Tokyo - lamented the level of "fair weather" fandom being exhibited this year.

He titled it Failure, Manchester United And The Impermanence Of Memory and wrote: "I support United, but not Moyes - that is the anthem for this season. And what if the successor to Moyes fails? And his successor, and the successor after that?

"I support United, but not when it is being managed by someone who does not know how to win? Or, to cut a long story short: I support United, but not when they are losing?"

Perhaps that is the real reason behind my being a born-again football follower. The explanation doesn't matter, for I'm simply enjoying this retro moment.

ignatius@sph.com.sg


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