When we’re talking Modern Football there’s nothing that quite vexes me like corporate hospitality. Those two words go along with “the football” as well as “new iPhone” goes with “bath full of lemonade”. And yet it doesn’t. These days it is what keeps many clubs going if we’re honest. The Albion have just posted the sort of corporate finance figures that show that, while David Burke did go, Tony will never get rid of Paul Barber. Having been a harsh critic on these pages you have to tip your hat to that sort of financial performance. It may even mean we can get some new players, because the squad depth was badly exposed again yesterday, but without the revenues from the lounges the rest of us would be watching worse football still. Or no football.
So what exactly was my dilemma? I belong on a terrace wearing Adidas trainers. And some other stuff, obviously, otherwise I’d be freezing and get arrested. But the trainers are the thing. I literally cannot remember the last time I have been to a game and not worn them. Perhaps a mid week game when I had to come straight from work. I’m not sure. However, in the 1901 Club they are verboten. There is a collar and shoes dress code. When I was younger I made it a rule to avoid night clubs that had similar dress codes for the fairly obvious reason that they were rubbish, overpriced lager palaces with terrible music and erection sections. But not quite all the time. When certain friends wanted to go then I did because being with my friends was more important than my musical and drinking prejudices. This is how I found myself in the 1901 yesterday, and before that dressing in a shirt and shoes for the football. Because a very good friend had free lounge passes. Free is my favourite price. And my very good friend shares a love of football, music, food, drinking and banter. A reminder that sometimes it’s good to break your own rules.
It was coincidental that The Boy was missing his first Saturday home game of the season, due to a birthday party on the other side of Sussex. So we had a boys day, a jolly boys outing, a day on the sauce. If you are looking for an insightful and factual account of the game I would stop right now. The painful irony is that yesterday I had the best view I have ever had of a football match and yet I can barely remember most of it. An opportunity wasted. Literally.
We started with the best of intentions. We were back to mine after the game for curry and wine with our wives and so we thought we’d take it easily. That, frankly, lasted until we got to The Cyclist and my friend had drained his Cruzcampo almost before we’d sat down. And, if you can’t beat them, join them. The night before we had played badminton together and my friend had said his dad was meeting us at the ground. “You’ll like my dad. He likes drinking.” Before I could even meet Dad however Dick’s Bar had worked its magic and drawn us in, as if it were one of Brighton’s more interesting and bohemian pubs rather than a strip lit bar at a football ground. Two down we met my friend’s dad and his mate and went to the lounge. Now we were four.
Four is the ideal number for drinking in rounds. I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here. Two can and do drink in rounds of course but it’s not a proper round. It’s two friends at a pub. With three of you there is a tricky decision to be made as to if you stop at three pints or move on to a much more dangerous six. But with four of you a pleasant afternoon can be whiled away over beers without getting either too wasted or staying too sober. Only, of course, we’d already had a couple.
So what can I say about that ultimate evil necessity The Lounge? Well, it was very nice. You can see instantly why people do it. No queues. A proper knife and fork for your pie. Alan Mullery lurking silverly in the background. Glass glasses. BRANDED glasses. As I imagined the bulk of my friends battling in on a train bantering with the large away support, or struggling through traffic on their coach, I was sat with a proper pint in a proper glass round a table that wasn’t unlike the ones you get at dinners at smart hotels. When I went to get my round in the young girl behind the bar looked distraught when I ordered two Harveys. “I’m terribly sorry” she sighed “but do you mind them in Guinness glasses as we’re out of Harvey’s ones?” She looked like she was about to sob. I resisted the temptation to yell “ACTUALLY YES, I DO MIND. WHAT HAS THIS PLACE COME TO? NO BRANDED GLASSES? BRING ME PAUL BARBER SO I CAN DICTATE AN IMMEDIATE EMAIL TO HIS FACE!” Instead I just said “that will be fine”. And smiled at her. The poor love seemingly had no idea that I can usually spend over 10 minutes queuing only to find no beer or pie at all.
Just as the lounge is lovely so are the seats. An amazing view, right behind the managers. The seats even wider. Even more padded. And that’s where it gets a bit hazy. Brentford seemed to have more of the ball. We seemed to have the better chances. They scored from their only chance of the first half via a massive deflection. We squandered a couple of good ones, Calde shooting straight at the keeper when through on the angle. Brentford played the sort of high line that a decent striker combined with a linesman who knows the rules should be exposing over and over. We had neither.
And here’s why I love football. Whether you are in the best seats in the house in your best shirt or behind the goal in your trainers and other stuff you will have an opinion on the game. That opinion will be strong whether you are a member of a Temperance Society or, frankly, quite pissed. Mine, and my friend’s dad was that we had generally been the better side and had been unlucky. My friend’s (and Mark who I normally sit with agrees with this) was that we were poor. Very poor. I’m offering both sides because, honestly, when it comes down to it, yesterday was a day out on the piss more than it was a sporting occasion. And there’s nothing “modern football” about that, it’s what I did for years.