Sex and Football – Part 1: It’s only a game…

Steve Hall recalls how he found out that sex and football just doesn’t mix for him…

I really shouldn’t have ordered my wife to get out of the car.

After all she’d risen before the crack of dawn to crowd into an Italian coffee shop along with a throng of Italian and England fans in Sydney’s Leichhardt area, suffered through 90 minutes of full time, the drama of extra time and the tense penalty shoot-out with its mounting and somehow inevitable sense of dread and failure.

When Gareth Southgate missed the sixth penalty and condemned England to yet another defeat – to Germany of all teams – again! – it was the last straw.

She tried, really she did, to comfort me, but I was inconsolable. In fact she tried too hard – I needed to vent my rage, my disappointment, my frustration, I needed to wallow for a while. When she mentioned being a good loser my response was “I’m fucking sick of being a good loser, I want to be a good winner!”

And then she said it. Those dreaded words.

“It’s only a game.”

Had I been my normal senses I might have pointed out it’s far more than only a game; it’s drama, it’s competition, it’s tribal, it’s life or death.  But I wasn’t my normal self.

“Get out” I said as I pulled the car over.

“You’re joking.”

“Get out”

So she did. And I drove off.

(It’s not quite as bad as it sounds – it was early morning and we’d planned to go for a run after the game, so she had her running gear on and she just ran the 6 kilometres home.)

We soon kissed and made up, but it was then, during Euro 96, that I finally realised that sex and football just don’t mix.

I should have known – Ian’s dad gave me a hint many years earlier. It was on Swindon’s Stratton Bank, 10 minutes before the 1967 FA Cup 3rd round replay against West Ham (which we won convincingly 3-1 after a magnificent 3-3 draw at Upton Park, my first away game).

As 15 year olds, my best mate Ian and me weren’t obsessed with either sex or football – we just didn’t think of anything else, that’s all. So when the Swindon Robinettes paraded in their short skirts before the game, Ian commented “Cor, couldn’t I give them one” or something equally sensitive.

“Don’t be daft” said his dad “If one of them came over and said to you ’let’s get it on behind the stand’ you’d say ‘wait till after the game’.”

And of course he was right – horny virgins we may have been, but what’s having your first sexual experience compared to seeing your team giant killing a team containing Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst?

Of course, there was a time I was tempted to rearrange my priorities but Shirley cured me of that. Shirley was my first real girlfriend (i.e. the one I got past number 7 on the 10 point schoolboy “success with girls” scale).

She lived in East Challow. For those uninitiated with the geography of the Thames Valley, East Challow is on the road out of Wantage, the one that I took while hitchhiking the 20 miles to Swindon’s games. In autumn 1969 the saving I made by hitchhiking compared to getting the Chandlers bus was enough for 2 or 3 (illegal for a 17 year old) pints – because by now my horizons had expanded to include beer as a third interest.

So one day, while waiting for a lift, I was tempted and I fell. I gave up hitching and called on Shirley.

My faithlessness received its just reward when Shirley dropped me a week later – and that game was the only home game I missed all season. For the first time, but not for the last, I vowed never to put women before football again.

Which is why, 3 years later, I found myself in a heated argument with my first love, Maria, on a road outside Swindon just off the M4 junction (not that the M4 existed then).

I’d been going out with 17 year old Maria for about 3 weeks and my attempts to relieve myself of my embarrassing virginity with her – I was just shy of 20 years old, after all – had so far proved futile.

So when I suggested we hitch from Bristol (where I was at University and where Maria lived) to Wantage to visit my home town (well, then-current home town, being originally a Hartepudlian) I had a hidden agenda – to detour to Swindon to see them play Millwall.

I confess I didn’t quite get round to telling Maria this until she somehow managed to work it out – probably because we were trying to hitch into Swindon rather than on the road to Wantage at the time. She rather vociferously informed me that hell would cloud over before she would go to a football match with me.

We enjoyed a vigorous relationship – she once broke my alarm clock when it hit the wall after I ducked – and so an argument ensued, during which I was able to convince her to accompany me to the game. I recall it was by saying “Well, I’m going, you can hitch back yourself” or something equally gentlemanly.

My deception was punished of course – Swindon put in a terrible performance to lose 2-0 and Ray Bunkell became the first Swindon player in years to be sent off. Maria laughed at me after the game and in the circumstances I felt she had a right to.

On a more positive note, in a telephone box that night in Stanford on the Vale, calling my dad to give us a lift to Wantage, Maria told me I’d been “masterful” and we got amorous, with the end result I finally rid myself of my virginity that night by creeping into her room with my parents (hopefully) asleep next door.

Would I have swapped a Swindon win for that experience with Maria? I have to confess probably not – after all, we finished 13 points off promotion so it’s not as if the two points would have made any difference. Mind you, if the choice was promotion to Division One (i.e. the Premier League) for Swindon versus me having sex for the first time it would be a close call. After all, there’s always another girl (in theory, at least) while a chance at the Premier League is a rare and beautiful thing indeed. As indeed was Maria.

To be continued next week…

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