A second lockdown won’t cause me much suffering. I don’t have a shop selling ‘non-essential’ goods (e.g. books) that will go out of business. As a freelance journalist, I’m not at risk of losing my job. I don’t have a life–threatening disease so I’m not going to die because my local hospital won’t admit me. I have only one elderly relative and she’s in our family’s ‘support bubble’.
My biggest worry is that schools will close again, not least because one of my children is doing her A-levels next year and another his GCSEs. Boris has absolutely, categorically ruled that out so I give it about another week before he does a U-turn. But I’m probably better off than 95 per cent of the population.
The one thing I will really miss, though, is going to the football, which I had naively thought might be possible again this year. I even bought two season tickets to my beloved QPR — one for me, one for my 12-year-old son, Charlie — and nonchalantly ignored the deadline for applying for a refund. At one point, the club announced that a few hundred fans would be allowed into the ground and Charlie and I eagerly put our names in the hat, only for the offer to be withdrawn when the ‘rule of six’ was introduced.
The next best thing was going to the stadium’s posh restaurant on match day — which the club made possible for the first time last Saturday. But it was £60 a head and we were told we wouldn’t be able to go over to the window to look out over the pitch. We would have to make do with a big screen. That sounded even more frustrating than watching the match at home, knowing the ground is only a mile away.
I hadn’t realised how much I valued the weekly ritual. And I say ‘weekly’ because Charlie and I had taken to going to away games, too, criss-crossing England by train. Our away record isn’t great, so more often than not we’d find ourselves on Saturday evenings in a carriage strewn with empty beer cans and KFC boxes, listening to middle-aged men in QPR shirts grumbling about missed chances and poor substitutions. Why, then, do I regret not being able to get on a train to see QPR play Blackburn this weekend, knowing we will almost certainly lose? I’m struggling to understand it, yet the prospect of not being able to go to a game for the foreseeable future fills me with sadness.
I can think of three reasons. First, there’s the fact that Charlie and I are suffering together. I’m always working so hard I don’t get to spend much time with my children, particularly now they’re getting older and more independent. But ever since they were babies I’ve been taking them to QPR games and even though the other three often have something more important to do these days, Charlie has really got the bug. Sitting beside each other in the stadium, celebrating together, commiserating with each other, sharing cheesy chips… that’s companionship and it’s something I had been looking forward to doing until I die.
Then there’s the fact that, very occasionally, we win and that’s absolutely bloody marvellous. I often tell Charlie that if we supported Arsenal or Chelsea, a win wouldn’t mean a great deal because it happens virtually every week. The great thing about supporting a mid-table Championship side is that victories are so rare it feels like winning the FA Cup every time. The last match we went to was away at Preston North End on 7 March and QPR won 3-1. The train back to London was packed with QPR fans and we sang all the way home.
But above all, it’s being with other people — lots of other people — who share a common interest. I’ve lived in or around Shepherd’s Bush most of my life, but the only time I have a tangible sense of community is at QPR games. When I see the fans converging on Loftus Road on a Saturday afternoon my heart lifts and nothing can beat that feeling of walking up the concrete steps in the family stand and seeing the pitch for the first time. I love hearing the roar of the crowd, seeing the entire stadium leap to its feet when a chance presents itself and joyfully chanting the names of the players when they score goals. That’s the stuff of life.
Charlie told me last week, after QPR beat Cardiff 3-2, that going to games with me had been the happiest moments of his life so far. We cannot continue to deny ourselves these experiences. If we do, something in us will die.
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