Chelsea v Liverpool, Sunday afternoon, Stamford Bridge. My friend John, a Chelsea season ticket holder and a very nice, well-mannered, middle-class, political man, says, “Shazia, I’m going to takeyou to a football match. It’ll be a real experience for you.” It’s only a football match, I think. It can’t be that much of an experience. I’ve done stand-up in a bunker in Kosovo, performed in a tent in Pakistan two days before it was blown up – what possible experience can a football match be?
Before entering the ground, John tells me we’ll be sitting in whathe affectionately calls the scum section, and that I need to learn some hymns. He then teaches me my first football song: “In your Liverpool slums, you look in the dustbin for something to eat, you find a dead rat and you think it’s atreat, in your Liverpool slums.”
I sit in seat 65, next to Pete the plumber. He shakes my hand, then asks if I need any plumbing doing. “Not at the moment,” I say. “I’m just here to watch the match.”
It’s all very civilised. Everyone sitsquietly, listening to the Chelsea Brass Band on the sidelines; there’s no tear-gas, firecrackers or those hooligans dressed up as policemen beating up random people. An announcement is made just before kick-off. A man shouts, “Racism is not tolerated at Stamford Bridge.” Does he mean it’s OK everywhere else?
The Liverpool players run on to the pitch and a barrage of abuse begins, the like of which I’ve never seen before. The three men in front of me, who could have easily been my solicitor, accountant and gynaecologist, all dressed nicely in brown woolly cardigans and smart jeans, open their mouths and everything changes. They start shouting, “You murderers, you f*****g murderers, you kill your own fans.” I look around and everyone’s chanting the same thing. They’re murderers? That’s quite a statement. Do the police know about this?
One Chelsea player who is not playing that well gets abused by aman in a brown cardigan. “You’re aw****r and you’re past it! You’re s**t today, get off the f*****g pitch!”Ithought the abuse I get in comedy clubs was bad, but it’s nothing compared with this. All of a sudden Ihave a new respect for football players. They get personal and professional insults hurled in their faces while they’re working.
Liverpool get the ball off Chelsea, then I hear men shouting, “F**k off, you thieving c***s”, followed by random abuse directed at Liverpool’s Spanish goalkeeper, José Reina: “You’ll never play for Spain – you’re rubbish, you fat Spanish waiter.” I thought he was a goalkeeper – why are they calling him awaiter? Five minutes later, they follow it up with, “You fat tart.”
I feel the passion, anger, enthusiasm, venom, hate and love in all these men. I’ve never seen such a display of emotional range within so many men in 90 minutes.
A white Liverpool player then tackles a black Chelsea player and the accountant-looking man in front of me shouts, “You only tackled him because he’s black – you racist!” If this is what it’s like at Chelsea, what’s it like at Millwall?
Then the Chelsea fans start shouting at the Liverpool fans: “Speak f*****g English, learn to speak English.” I want to say, “Wot, like youse lotdo?”
This would not happen in any other profession. Imagine a patient telling the doctor, “You are rubbish, you are, you’ll never work here again, and you’re fat, you fat English cleaner! And you’re a tart and thief!”
Chelsea score a goal, and it feels like an earthquake. Everyone jumps on top of each other. A stranger’s hand moves across my face, other men are all over me – I should come here more often. Chelsea win 2-0, and as the match ends everyone moves in single file, very quietly and politely, as if they’re leaving church. Thank God for football. I don’t know where else these men would ever beable to vent their emotions and frustrations in such an entertaining manner.