by Luke Thorne ¦ @ElleCeeJayTee
Red socks on match days and pre-match badge kissing, it’s the silly superstitions that lockdown football has been missing
I think I’ve finally cracked it, or maybe I’ve just finally cracked. But, after months of watching lockdown football, I have finally worked out why I haven’t felt that pre-match buzz like I used to.
Despite Saturday’s game against Coventry being the first of the 2020/21 league campaign, I wasn’t enamoured by the prospect of watching another City game behind closed doors.
Of course, football in the ‘new normal’ is still football, and watching City is still watching City; with the joy of victory, and the pain of defeat, still as visceral as ever. Yet there’s something missing that can’t be replicated whilst watching at home via Robins TV, and that’s the pre-match routine.
Now I appreciate that there are fans across the globe who aren’t able to regularly attend games, but whether you’re based in Bristol, or a fan from afar, many of us will have our pre-match routines.
And a big part of the matchday experience is doing those things which become pre-match rituals in the fullness of time. Whether it be meeting up with mates in the pub to debate the starting eleven, or grabbing some grub to, figuratively and literally, chew the fat.
Then of course, there’s the pre-match rituals that are actually superstitions in disguise. These irrational and unscientific beliefs are prevalent across football (as they are in most sports) and players, from Sunday League to Champions League level, have them.
Many of us will know someone we’ve played with who would swear by always putting on their left shin pad first, or that teammate who would go into a fit of rage if you used up the last of their lucky sock tape before they had the chance to apply their third layer. Whilst at elite level, you are bound to find players who either kiss the turf or make several signs of the cross before the referee blows their first whistle, although it’s not just the players who engage in these trivial behaviours.
Many fans have their own pre-match superstitions, and the slightly embarrassing truth is I have mine. Some are ever-present, such as wearing red socks on matchdays, and kissing the club crest on my season ticket wallet before I take my seat.
Whilst others are dependent on results, like only being able to buy the matchday Programme if we won the last time I bought it (then not being permitted to buy it until we win again) and then continuing to purchase the publication until the winning streak ends. As you can imagine, my collection of Well Red/The Robins is missing quite a few issues!
However, since we’ve been unable to attend matches, these superstitions have ceased. And I do miss them dearly. Yes, I know they make no difference whatsoever to the outcome, but in the way they help minimise anxiety for the participants out on the pitch, they similarly help reduce the tension for those who can’t help being emotionally invested whilst watching their team.
This is not to say I haven’t tried to create new superstitions since lockdown football started. For example, prior to Cardiff back in July, my brother came over to the house with his new-born twins. Sensing an opportunity, I tried ‘playing the kids’ by holding one of my nephews in my arms during the game, in a desperate bid to bring a youthful vigour to City’s performance.
We all know what happened next – City were decisively beaten after a lacklustre performance, the play-off push was practically over, and Lee Johnson’s managerial reign ended an hour after full-time. (Perhaps Alan Hansen was right all along!)
So, on Saturday I decided to remove myself from all the pre-match hype, and not allow myself any time to contemplate what this season’s pre-match rituals were going to be. And, for the first time in four years, I left the house early that morning to go and play a round of golf.
In an attempt to distract my mates from my awful golfing ability, I decided to wear a purple polo shirt (with just a hint of lime) along with a Peaky Binders style flat cap out on the course. And after hacking my way to an abysmal score, I just about managed to make it home in time for kick-off, still dressed in my ridiculous golfing attire.
Then, within seconds of settling down on the sofa, I was able to witness ‘Holdenball’ in all of it’s glory, as Pato finished off a well-executed cross by Nahki Wells to make it 1-0 City, and my search for a lockdown football superstition was over. It seems that all I had to do was dress like Bryson DeChambeau, and the first minute City goals will flow!
I can only hope that, over the course the next 45 league games, my golf game can start delivering results too.