August has come again. Football is back. Such words sprinkle a Christmas Eve feeling upon us all. Interminable, domesticated Saturdays have departed and familiar, fixtured life can recommence. Resumed are our sacred routines – scarves sifted out and returned to necks, lucky routes taken, matchday pubs invaded for the first time since May, fortnightly acquaintances greeted again with quick enquiries of holidays and health, and engrossed conversations about players sold and signed.
Once more to the ground we go, inhaling sweet catering van scents as they hang in the air almost visible like the vapours in a Bisto advert. Back is the 50/50 draw and its faithful seller, and the neatly-piled club shop with last season’s away shorts in a £5 bin. The new shirt, modelled by full-kit child and corpulent granddad in crumpled weekend jeans, looks wonderful or awful and never in-between. Short-sleeves are trusted by the kitted and the rest, for the first day is always sunny, is it not? Even an angry God couldn’t drop rain on our August day of hope.
In pastoral Dingwall and briny Arbroath, in remodelling Dundee and solid Mount Florida, at scholarly Ibrox and folksy Firhill, and at charming Somerset Park and surprised Meadowbank, the hopeful gather. We can’t see them, but we know that they are there. They share the same darting hearts that Alan McCredie and I witness on our nimble first day travels to Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Alloa, Falkirk, Gorgie and Perth. For the football supporter, this is a carnival day.
While the familiar comforts us, spying difference is a first day delight of its own. A revamped matchday programme with its cryptic, initialled and hashtagged new name comes with a 50p price rise. Fences, fittings and awnings have been painted, cherished turnstile lettering covered and superseded. Even a change at the food hatch is noticed – perhaps promotion has been met with a new pastry supplier, relegation with staff losses. Soon will come the joy of sighting the pitch once more, our Lincoln Green meadow, staggeringly vivid as if last season we were watching in black and white. Then, the appraisal of new signings, their gait and first touches evidence enough to make an absolute judgement.
These themes are to be cherished as part of football’s universality. Across this country and others, we are all feeling the hope and sniffing the Dulux. Year and place are hardly of consequence, no matter the changes in the game, the world and our lives. In Dunfermline and Gorgie, the pulse quickens when a chant is called rustily back into use, just as it does in Southampton, Mansfield, Wolfsburg, Utrecht and Bologna. We have all come home.
At Central Park, the 2pm shutters roll upwards and the turnstile girls arrive with their cash floats. The public address system croaks into life – Chumbawamba then Kaiser Chiefs, of course – and a lone pair of clanking palms groggily clap tracksuited players onto the pitch. Soon here, there and everywhere, football will begin again, and the week will once more have an anchor