Words By Charlie Batten
With Valentine’s day just gone, it got my thinking about one of the loves of my life. Football.
One of my earliest memories growing up was when I was 6 my Dad took me to see Southampton lose 2-0 to Charlton at home in the Championship. It was the first time I’d ever been to a football game and despite the loss, I’ve been to well over 50 since.
Growing up in a football family it was pretty clear that I would have to get into the sport or then there wouldn’t be much to talk about in the house. Both my Dad and Grandad are Southampton fans, my Nan and Grandad both support Preston North End, my cousin supports Swansea because she likes the look of the swan on their badge and my Mum claims to be a Southampton fan ever since marrying my Dad but seemed to celebrate Liverpool winning the title last season a little too much for my liking.
Since I was born my Dad was desperate for me to be a Saints fan so that he could take me to games just like his Dad had done with him. However, there was a slight blip in this plan after my Nan bought me a Wayne Rooney album when I was 7 which turned me into a Manchester United fan for a little bit. This time is referred to as the “lost years”.
Eventually I traded the Premier League glory in Manchester for the League 1, playoff chasing south coast. After the 9-0 Southampton defeat to United I’m really starting to wonder why I made the change but regardless, once I made the change I have never looked back.
To me, going to watch a game isn’t just about the 90 minutes you spend at the stadium, it’s about the whole day. Growing up in London it wasn’t as simple as just walking to the stadium.
For a 3 o’clock kick off me and my Dad would have to get up around 10, set off by 11:30, spend 2 hours in the car discussing our chances to get a win, park up on the outskirts of the city, walk for about half an hour to get to the stadium, get a burger outside the ground, watch the game, queue for about 30 minutes to get out of the stadium, get back to the car either whilst either talking about either how good we were or how terrible we were, drive home with the radio either on or off depending on the result and then make it home just in time for dinner and the games highlight on Match of the Day.
It was these 9-hour outings that caused me to fall in love with football and Southampton and become so close to my Dad.
There is also something unique about supporting a club that’s far down in the footballing pyramid that creates an even stronger connection to the team you support. If you support one of the better sides like Liverpool or Man City you almost come to expect wins and trophies, but when you’re stuck in League 1 every victory is so huge because of how important it is, and every loss is so damaging because of the risk of relegation that comes with it.
That connection I have with Saints has made the back-to-back promotions to the Premier League so special as well as getting into the Europa League as well as two trips to Wembley. On the other hand, it has meant I’ve been crushed by relegation battles, watching my hero Rickie Lambert leave the club, crying on my Dad’s shoulder as we lost in the League cup final and two 9-0 defeats in two seasons.
The best part of supporting a football club, or any sports team for that matter, is the bond you create with the team but the people and places around it.
When I was younger me and my Dad would argue a lot, but it was football that allowed us to get past that and become close. For most of my life my late Grandad had Alzheimer’s so it would often be hard to have proper conversations with him, but I could always talk to him about Saints and that allowed me to still see the person in him even when he was slowly fading away. Even though I’ve never lived in Southampton, I still feel close to it whenever I’m there due to all the times I’ve been there and all the memories I have of the city.
Football truly is a cursed romance as the good times can be so amazing, but the bad times can be so hurtful. In the end though I don’t think I’d change it for anything.