An early memory. A young boy, age four, maybe five, visiting his grandparents in Hull. His Grandad suggests “taking him to the football”. Worried family conversation, “he’s too young”. Grandad wins the discussion. Coat zipped up, am I warm enough, what time will you be back, small hand clasped firmly and safely in the older man’s hand. A bond is formed. We walk to Boothferry Park, home of Hull City, the Tigers, my Grandad’s regular Saturday outing. Very few memories of the match, except a total feeling of it being companionable in a manner that is hard to describe. A bizarre handball incident (player thinks he’s fouled, picks up ball for free kick, no foul, handball against). Strange how you can remember a handball incident in a match 35 years ago when you can’t even remember the score or the other team. The walk home for tea. Everyone else pleased to see us home safely. My Grandad and me, we knew we’d be fine.
My initiation at an early age was complete. Any my memories of that afternoon with a man who sadly would leave us before I could ever know him well will never be erased.
A later but still early memory. Visits to the City Ground, Nottingham. The late seventies and early eighties. The Clough glory years. Parking in West Bridgford, seeing the impressive shadow of the Executive Stand a ten-minute walk away, drawing us in like a magnet. A ten-minute walk to see Shilton, Robertson, Gemmill, Woodcock, O’Neill. Sitting in the Exec Stand, Clough on the opposite touchline, a God like figure only seen from afar. The noisy Trent End to the right. This time with my Dad, not a massive football fan, but he knew I was. And we saw some teams in those days. I remember Celtic under the floodlights, a nil-nil draw I think, but wow, European football, drunken Scotsmen climbing floodlights, the glow of the pitch, what a night for a young boy to savour.
Then, in 1983 we moved south. Grandad had gone, no more visits to Hull with him. Nottingham a long way away, no more visits to the City Ground with Dad. I had to develop my own relationship. It started slowly, a visit to the Goldstone with a friend and his father. I took a bit of convincing at first. Then another friend’s Dad started giving me lifts. Then, when old enough to get the train on my own, it really started. Regular trips where the magical North Stand became my temporary home for a few years. Probably a bit young really, probably my parents wouldn’t have let me had they known what it was like, probably some of the best moments of my teenage years. I was hooked, an Albion fan for life, despite some of my earlier dalliances further north.
Today, two small hands will be clasped in mine. Are they warm enough? Can they see okay.? Do they need the toilet? Are they hungry? Overly fussing them, they’re just fine really Dad. This is not their initiation, they have already been initiated. Their football inheritance of their Dad’s team was completed a couple of years ago. I am sure they will always be Albion. Every time we get off the train at Falmer and I see the Amex, the heart beats just that little bit faster. This club has come a long way. Memories of Gillingham and the Withdean are long gone. The short walk from the station up to our amazing stadium, buy a programme, maybe (another) hat from the club shop, up to the East Stand entrance, up the stairs, right to the top, then we walk onto the stadium concourse, hear the buzz of fans enjoying a pre-match chat and see the first flash of green to our right. Walk past that, to the middle of the stand, up the steps and then we are there. For the first time, we have our very own seats in this magnificent Sussex bauble, sit down, hello to the regulars and just admire this theatre of sport.
Me, two small people in the middle and my Dad on the left. In some ways, the result is irrelevant, it will fade away. The real result is three generations enjoying this together, that memory will never fade for any of us.
Football. It’s a generation thing. That visit to Boothferry Park was more than a game of football. It was a perpetual gift that has been treasured and passed on. Thank you Grandad. And Up the Albion.