Self-isolation

Cod Almighty | Article

by Chris Smith

30 March 2020

We are taking an enforced break from football. For Chris Smith, it isn't the first time, so he knows our love of the game will be all the stronger when it returns.

Current events give us a chance for some self-reflection.

I've been on holiday abroad recently, fretting about what would happen to all my carefully-made football plans regarding the Mariners and travel on alternate Saturdays to London to see the last home games at Griffin Park and Brentford's promotion campaign. By the time I boarded the aircraft in Malta, my main concern was getting home with a long-running respiratory illness worsening, and - in the words of another highly vulnerable Brentford-supporting friend - surviving the season.

Football does have its place. But I won't be worrying in future about getting some trips abroad arranged whilst missing as few Town games as possible. What I'm most looking forward to is connecting with friends again, and having that all-round, day-out experience.

I've been here a few times before.

In 1986 I left Grimsby for London for enhanced work opportunities and soon found work which led to very few Saturdays off. While I got to a few away games, I struggled to get to home matches. One weekend in August 1988, I found myself at Blundell Park in a crowd of less than 3,000 watching the Mariners at home to Torquay after two successive relegations. We'd been hammered at Cambridge the week before so the omens weren't great.

Forget the drop in status though. This game for me was every bit as exciting as any match against Barnsley or Wednesday in the early 1980s. I was back where I belonged. On a sunny afternoon we won 1-0, and on leaving the ground friends I hadn't seen for years said "Hello Chris" as though I'd never been away. My first season watching the Mariners had been 1979-80 as a teenager, and I felt the same way as I had then after a particularly impressive win. My absence had not diminished the love of my club. I could have cried with happiness.

A change into the job which I'm about to retire from meant I could have Saturdays off and enjoy and endure the rollercoaster years of the 1990s. Again, games were limited in some years as I recovered from near liver failure caused by excessive alcohol consumption, but my heart beat fondly for Town throughout.

We lost at Millwall but I enjoyed standing outside a pub on Bankside in sunshine that lunchtime, happy in the company of many friends and content with a soft drink (pint of course) and the anticipation of watching my team

In February 2000 I made the decision to self-isolate from football after an away game at QPR made me realise that my collar was going to be felt sooner rather than later, and that alcohol and football and me didn't mix. The fear of the DTs meant that football took a back seat again.

I went to rehab in September 2000 and have been clean since a month before that. I realised that recovery came before everything and I avoided football as a potential trigger until the Arsenal away game in 2001. That still didn't feel comfortable so I left it behind until watching Brentford beat Huddersfield 3-0 in April 2002.

This time I knew I was ready and quickly followed this up with watching Town. We lost at Millwall but I enjoyed standing outside a pub on Bankside in sunshine that lunchtime, happy in the company of many friends and content with a soft drink (pint of course) and the anticipation of watching my home team, a team who I had loved as much in my absence from games as I did when attending.

It's been largely downhill on the field since but I have had some truly memorable times, even during the wilderness. I've made so many new friends and most wouldn't recognise the Town fan of the days before 2000.

We all want to watch the Mariners again and its easy to be frustrated by the wait. But, trust me, it's going to be worth it. It won't be where we are in the league that matters when we come back: it's the fact that we're there to see them.

Home page image by Pacopac - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

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