On Tuesday night, Blackburn Rovers scored a 94th minute equaliser against Fulham to earn a 2-2 draw. As I stood, ecstatic, in the away stand at Craven Cottage, you would have thought Blackburn had won the Champions League rather than merely lifting ourselves out of the Championship relegation zone. Euphoric scenes. What a night.
In the aftermath of the match, it occurred to me that this is what being a football fan is all about. I recall seeing all sorts of goals down the years akin to this level of euphoria, and the majority fell in the last quarter of the match. While the point we gained on Tuesday night against a tricky opponent was both most welcome and deserved, it was the manner in which the final goal was scored which made it all the sweeter.
The first half was utter Fulham domination, they were no doubt unhappy with only a 1-0 lead at half-time. I went to the match with a group of mates, including my girlfriend and her close friend. During a chat over a ‘pint and pie’ deal at half time, the consensus was clear: we were enjoying the atmosphere and we were optimistic of a draw. None of us expected it to happen in the manner it did.
As we took our position in the terraces, standing across two rows of the away section, a frantic second half continued apace. It was one in which Blackburn completely controlled. Blackburn-born (in 1999!) Conor Mahoney looked lively in the last half an hour. Lucas Joao also made an impact from the bench, looking comfortable in possession, and Marvin Emnes looked as lively as ever. There were some very good, hearty performances, mirrored by the away fans’ boisterousness.
Quickly following a converted Conway penalty, Fulham scored to make it 2-1 to Fulham in the 86th minute. Blackburn spurned several semi-decent chances thereafter. All promising signs, although all looked lost – the night sky permeated by the desperate groans of disgruntled fans. We’d played so well. We’d deserved at least a point.
With the four minutes of injury time up, a bobbled cross from Derrick Williams was met, almost in slow motion, by Lucas Joao. It was enough. It was almost too much. As the ball nestled into the bottom corner, 700 travelling fans went ballistic, most ending up on different rows of the terraces from where they were stood seconds earlier. A mate of mine leaped up from the row below to celebrate frantically with us, as though via teleporter. Strangers embraced. Two older men, arm in arm, literally skipped up and down the steps of the terraces.
It’s a moment which all football fans have experienced and serves only to cement their loyalty. At the recent birth of his son, Buzz, Frank Skinner had the dilemma of which club his child should support. ‘For years I have been so strict about saying people should support their local club, the one nearest to where they were born.’ Skinner’s proposed suggestion? For them to drive from their home in North London to give birth in Sandwell General close to West Brom, the same hospital he was born in.
Noel Gallagher, also a resident of North London, had a similar dilemma, although he was happy for his son to support Arsenal. ‘I’m happy with that, I like Arsenal. You have to support your local club.’ The geography really ought not to matter, so long as you persist with continued gusto at what sometimes can’t be deemed ‘entertainment’.
In conversation with Gallagher’s friend Russell Brand, James Corden vividly remembered seeing a West Ham match as a child. As the Hammers were setting up to defend a corner in the opening ten minutes of the match, Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock propped himself against the post, looked him in the eye, and mimed, ‘I’m knackered’. Together they came to the conclusion that it was moments like this which made football so beautiful, ‘It’s actually quite demoralising sometimes but everyone still goes because ultimately, everybody wants to be a part of something, or belong to something. It’s the perfect thing to belong to.’
However you view your affinity to your club, it’s nights like these which make supporting them worth it. There’s a school of thought which suggests that fans are mostly driven by their team winning trophies (not the fourth-place variety). It goes like this: we’ll stomach the chip-and-charge, swing low sweet chariot, long-ball football so long as it gets three points – bring home the bacon and it’s all dandy. While semi-true, it doesn’t quite cover the whole picture, the ongoing process rather than the outcome, of being a fan – that is: to endure, but to persevere. Churchill’s notion of success being, ‘going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.’
It’s ultimately what shapes the good moments, those last-minute goals and occasional bragging rights. Being on the receiving end of a 7-0 washing makes you relish that glorious victory, or in this case draw, all the more. That’s cosmic harmony. It’s a love that is unrequited yet unconditional, frozen at the core of your sentient being. And also, it’s a right good laugh.
Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here