Sense and sensibility: The matchday experience

By Daniel Gray

This article first appeared in Issue 2 which was published in December 2016.

We close our front door at ten-to-three and walk up Lochend Road, hand-in-hand. To leave home this late for a match seems to me a loose connection between now and times that have slipped away – working the early shift and hardly breaking step between the shrill toots of the factory’s whistle and the referee’s. We overtake the ghosts of dockers and talk over their clogs.

“Are they going to the Hibs match too?” My daughter is nodding towards modern shipments of men and women in green and white scarves. They walk with purpose, as if a giant clock is at their backs, ticking in tuts, its hands jabbing and poking. Time is everywhere. The pendulum stretches back a century, dangles over the present and settles in a few decades’ time – those workers dashing up Lochend Road, me taking my girl to the game, her taking me and then… Who else? Who knows? Until May 2016, every Hibernian soul lived with an invisible tattoo on their arm. 114 years, it read. Time and the seasons floated ever onwards, August to May, August to May, August to May. Holding this cool and precious hand of hers, I am bound to feel this reflection, but it is not completely sullen. Here, in taking her to the match, is continuity, renewal, the circle of drab home defeats and occasional elation sustained.

“What’s that smell? It makes me hungry” says my daughter as we pass a catering van. And it hits me. Matchday is not about sepia yesterdays or uncertain tomorrows, it is about now, vibrant and very now, about being here, about habitats, about appreciation, about the senses themselves.

It is sight. Heads bobbing down the hill to the match, floodlights in the distance, regal grandstands towering at the end of tenement streets, the dark stomach of a ground’s concourse, the luminous green pitch setting faces alight, and the snooker ball colours of shirts.

It is hearing. “Programmes, get your programmes” and “Tickets for this week’s half-time draw, only a pound!”, a tinny Tannoy talking of birthdays, each first XI line-up name cheered, full-blown war-cries overwhelming the whistle and when the ball goes in the net…ten thousand skew-whiff opera singers in Valhalla.

It is smell. Those vans and their evocative frying onions annulled by Police horse manure in the road, Deep Heat and cut grass near the tunnel, the beery man sitting behind, the mint breath of the old lady beside, local factory scents drifting over rooftops and falling into the ground, and players’ aftershave saturating post-match autographs.

It is taste. One or three in the pub to settle the nerves, a crispy burger with sharp ketchup, the same sweets every week, foam-cup-tea a special kind of hot, those mints when the old lady passes the packet around, the trusty crust and surefire shape of a pie, or at 7pm staggering away from a boozer near the ground with a tray of drenched chips.

It is touch. Feet pounding ground-wards, metal and brass shoved by gloved-hands, knees scraping the row in front, chilly handshakes with football neighbours, the cold kiss of seat on backside, and most of all, most of all my girl, it is when the team scores and I lift you in the air. 

This article first appeared in Issue 2 which was published in December 2016.

Issue 12
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