Third Childhood

I claimed my name was Fred and that I was a lorry driver. Neither of these things were true. I was four years old at the time.

Fine. When you're six.
                                           Fine. When you’re six.

I also claimed to be a cowboy, something that fascinated me up until the time I saw real cowboys in the supermarket shopping for their supper instead of hunting antelope where the buffalo roamed. I lived in Aspen at the time. But I’d long since stopped pretending to be a cowboy. Not least as affecting a huge Western moustache and wearing cutaway leather chaps had connotations that could clear a dance-floor in seconds by then.

I did, admittedly, like listening to ELO’s Wild West Hero. And for that matter, Elton John’s even older  Roy Rodgers. There was something I could relate to, living in the West Country that wasn’t like that imagined Wild West country at all. Where I lived there weren’t any deer, or at least not until you got out onto Salisbury Plain. There were a few there, obviously. But the buffalo left about 300,000 years before.

Something about Reg Dwight, who got about as far west as Rickmansworth before he got famous, something about that whole untamed praries thing echoed in my head. But I stopped dressing-up as a cowboy when I was about six years old. Maybe before.

Football fans. When things were real.

I’ve only once dressed up as a footballer, and that was for a fancy dress party. Well, a murder mystery party thing, anyway. And thankfully, no photos survive.

I don’t get football. I don’t understand why it’s more important to know how many goals England won against West Germany in 1966 than to know what the EU is before you vote to leave it, or whether West Bromwich Albion is even a thing now, let alone Hamilton Academicals. I’ve been to Hamilton. It’s not, very.

My father insisted on the nearest we ever got to a religious silence while the football pool results were read out on TV on Saturdays, after we’d had to watch some utterly unintelligible football match commented on by a man screaming ‘he shoots, he scores’ and getting paid for it. I couldn’t understand horse racing commentary either, which was much the same thing. Shouty. Didn’t like.

I didn’t like books like Skins. I didn’t like the way that football violence and racism and abuse were all neatly airbrushed out, as soon as the mega money moved in and Pavarotti started singing about a make of Japanese car. All the boot boy casuals aggro hadn’t gone away. But it was suddenly Very Rude to mention it.

I didn’t like Alf Garnett, long before he was adopted as a candidate for Britain’s patron saint. I didn’t like living near the Arsenal ground, the old one, notwithstanding that it looked like something that Mussolini would have been pleased with.

OK, it was handy being able to blame football fans when I got a new convertible from the company I worked for, didn’t know how to get the roof up, stood on the back seat and pulled it until it all broke (oh I was younger, alright? I’m not like that now.). But.

You couldn’t park on a Saturday and if you did you couldn’t get back before six. And forget going to the shops or the Tube on match days. Don’t get me wrong. If people want to play football, great. If they want to watch it, I don’t understand that but fine, it’s nothing to do with me. I didn’t and don’t understand why it’s ok for that to inconvenience all the people not doing that. I said it’s nothing to do with me. I’m fine with keeping it that way.

But most of all, I don’t understand why adults, people with children, people allowed to vote, dress themselves (presumably) up like chubby toddlers to watch millionaires kicking a ball around. I was in Ipswich the other night. Some football match was on then, presumably. At least, men in their forties, fifties and even sixties had poured themselves into Portman Road’s finest XXXL this year’s strip and were walking around the town centre and nobody was sectioning them.

It baffles me. It didn’t used to happen. If senilityisthe seocnd childhood, these days there also has to be a third one, one where grown men raid the dressing-up box and pretend to be Wayne Rooney, IN PUBLIC. Walking down the High Street. At least the equally risible 50-somethings poured into wetsuits sailing plastic tea-trays at the yacht club have the decency not to waddle about looking like something Greenpeace couldn’t get back into the water. And guys, it may be Olympic year but trust me, they aren’t going to pick you. No, seriously. Especially not with that deeply unfashionable fungal infection that won’t go away because of you wearing wet neoprene shoes for eight hours on Saturdays.

But dressing up as a football player when you don’t? Really? As an adult? Maybe I should dig out my cowboy hat after all. Turn on the TV. Shut out the lights. And act my shoe-size, not my age. Take it away, Reg.

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