Theory: all non-league football fans are mental. Before I’m vilified by hordes of Witton Albion and Clitheroe fans, it’s worth noting that I am a non-league football fan too. We aren’t mental in an eating-sandwiches-from-a-bin way, more slightly-mad-in-a-loveably-eccentric way. It must be the mentality of shunning the glittering lights of the Premier League and its Rupert Murdoch-backed enterprise, and choosing instead to drop down numerous divisions and watch a side consisting of players you have borrowed sugar from.
Also, I believe most non-league fans are reasonably left-wing, mainly because the non-league fan chooses to witness a poorer quality of football in order to avoid handing over vast sums of cash to overpaid, oversexed players living in the lap of luxury, while old people cannot afford to pay their heating bills. Moreover, the ability to take the piss out of yourself is much more prevalent among lefties – and at 3.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, when you’re standing in torrential rain, 3-0 down with nine men, diluted tea in hand and a salmonella burger digesting in your stomach, if you can’t take the piss out of it all, you might just cry.
Last week, a pair of Lewes FC youngsters turned out for an England Schoolboys match against France at Wembley. Seeing two players from Lewes in the starting line-up for England at Wembley was a high honour indeed, especially for a tiny club like mine. Lewes FC are such a small club that fans get to travel on the team coach, an honour you can’t see Manchester United bestowing on their fans. United already have a plethora of stupid knobheads on their match-day bus, without allowing fans a slice of the action too.
Getting there was never going to be easy, as numerous Underground services were shut for “essential repairs” – thank God they’re “essential”, I’d be seriously hacked off if they were closed to allow Big Issue sellers a place to piss for the day.
I have never been on the Tube before. It only seems to feature in murder scenes of tired dramas, introducing another dead body. As commuters piled out of carriages, me and Gareth, a fellow Lewes fan (who can also be placed in the slightly-mad bracket), pretended to know what was going on by letting ourselves get carried away with the crowd. But in the midst of sweaty carriages and frantic passengers carrying luggage that could crush a small child if caught underneath, I didn’t have the faintest idea where we were going or why.
Piling on and off trains with the frequency of Pete Doherty’s barrister being phoned for another defence case, we scrambled our way up to Wembley Central and gazed in awe at the New Wembley’s iconic archway, which loomed magnificently over a cloudy London skyline, a picturesque image only slightly spoiled by London itself. Bustling. Heaving. As difficult to navigate as the Sahara with a faulty Satnav voiced by Ozzy Osbourne, with a Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall life-sized doll spouting organic recipes in the back seat.
Coaches of enthusiastic youngsters were piling into the Wembley club shop, paying £50 for a sparkly new England jersey, by far the most ‘out there’ pricing of anything this side of Harrods, with the possible exception of the much-remarked-upon food – £6.40 for a questionable pie and medium drink. That’s right, for the cost of two meals served on plates the size of the Hubble Telescope at your local Wetherspoon’s, you can treat yourself to a flimsy pastry and not have paid enough for a large drink.
Minor grumbles aside, the place is fantastic. From Wembley Way, full of loud-mouthed cockneys dishing out cut-priced flags and bass horns to children, to the impeccable statue of Bobby Moore, it seemed so modern, simple, yet passionately crafted.
How the FA made something so beautiful remains a pertinent question; the atmosphere, charm and grandeur of Wembley have little in common with football’s governing body. I might be disillusioned with the world of Premier League moneybags but this stadium reminded me of how things could be. When everything is as spectacular as Wembley truly is, dodgy food et al, the debt seems worth it, however unfair that may be to the clobbered punter.
It’s not like England football teams to offer hope and salvation, and the Schoolboys squad didn’t disappoint, going down 4-2. Yet all that mattered was the two tiny dots on the green playing surface, who, just days ago, were playing for my non-league team. The theatre of dreams indeed.