The Unknown Football Fan

Who even knew you before last Saturday?

True, not many. But you passed away

and they had to deal with you. The tannoy

states you followed the Tigers man and boy

and that last week on the final whistle

your heart lost it’s footing and you tippled

from the surge-barrier you’d claimed as yours

onto the terracing  at the height of the roar

for the season’s first home victory

and surrendered: calm, blue, history.

As the crowd gasped, you were not belittled

to be swept up with the match-day litter,

you were stretchered off like the latest victim

of the opposition’s defensive cynicism

with as much right to footballing glory

as those revered for their goal-scoring,

as long and loyal a member

as any businessman on the Board of Directors.

More than anyone, you knew what defeat cost - 

beside admission - each game lost

was a bird become extinct: irretrievable,

eternally regrettable, 

stirring up a real grief no victory

could remedy. Success was temporary.

Defeat ran and ran. But it was your team.

Your belief was bolstered by being beat.

So consider this your testimonial.

The teams line up like an International

and are presented to your memory.

This minute’s silence is your life’s trophy

and you could be anyone of us.

The referee convenes the hush.

Footballs lay motionless.

A seagull unfurls above us.

No more walking home in the rain.

No more mid-table clashes away

to South Coast retirement towns or the delirium

of a sixth-round Cup run.

Your wife won’t be expecting you. Your tea

won’t be ready and your scarf splits it’s seams

behind the kitchen door, all accepting the fact

that your game’s over when the dirt’s smoothed flat.

Yet we stand and feel the chill you felt

Blowing up from the Boothferry Road end

and the emptiness that mocks us

like the space cleared for the executive boxes

and we miss you, Unknown Football Fan,

though we missed your name in the clatter to stand.

You were never mentioned in the Green Papers

but you fell among fellow believers.

We know the referee will restart the game.

Our blood will glide like a ball in rain.

We will root and sing. We will feel aggrieved

until our own irretrievable defeat.

We hold death only in abeyance.

So in your physical absence,

in the spirit of thinking of you

we know the sporting thing to do

is  to lift your trophy and kiss it

for the full triumph of your final minute.

Craig Smith