Yesterday Southampton got to their first FA Cup final for 27 years and I was there and hooray!
You have to appreciate that Southampton are not a big club. Until two years ago they had the smallest stadium in the top division; their most expensive player (Rory Delap) cost just £4.5 million, chicken feed by premier league standards; and they have won just one major trophy in their history - which was in that final 27 years ago in 1976 when Bobby Stokes scored to give us a shock one-nil win against favourites Manchester United when we were in the old second division. So for us to get to a final is not the minor achievement it is for some of the big guns: it's absolutely huge. This sort of thing doesn't come along very often - if previous form is any guide I'll be bloody 46 when the next one comes along in 2030 - and everyone is determined to make the most of it.
What's more: we've qualified for Europe! Because Arsenal, who we'll be playing (eek), are already there through the champion's league, so we get the cup qualification spot by default. Next stop Skonto bloody Riga. Or Helsingborgs or something.
The game was pretty average, to be honest, but I always felt we had enough in reserve to take care of lowly Watford, even if them pulling one back late on was a bit nerve-racking. (It was 2-1, by the way.) And the travel was, of course, hellish: British Rail on a sunday is always a shot in the dark, and we were lucky enough to share a carriage on the way home with about forty miserable Watford fans. And then the train stopped at fucking Oxford instead of Reading and we had to get a bus and then a cab and if we'd lost it would have been the worst journey ever. But we didn't. We bloody won. It was completely worth it. And the atmosphere was fantastic. Everyone was up for it and I was lucky enough to have a seat right in the thick of it, waving my flag, wearing my ridiculous jingly bell hat. It's this sense of community you get from football that makes it so fucking great: I reread fever pitch recently and it reminded me just how rare that thing is, that feeling of belonging with complete strangers.
One other nice thing: the best player on the park for us was Brett Ormerod, who not very long ago got released by Blackburn and worked in a cotton mill for a while, playing non-league football. And then someone spotted him, and he got signed by Blackpool. And then he broke his leg in two places. And then he healed and started scoring goals and Southampton signed him and he always works incredibly hard, though he doesn't score that many, and yesterday he made one and scored the other. And he said, and it's incredibly cheesy but who gives a shit? that 'you have to hold on to your dreams because the only person who can really make them happen is you'. Yay! Go Brett!
I'm very grateful to football, actually. The last couple of months have been the hardest of my life, no question. But goals, it occurred to me, are like orgasms. They push everything else out of your head. When it's your team that scores, and you're there live, and the goal matters, you think of nothing else. It's a moment, albeit a brief one, of genuine and all-consuming release. Just for a second, I'm not thinking about her. And although most of the time I have a kind of masochistic desire for this thing - I really can't bear the idea of not minding any more at all, and I'd rather feel like this for ever than believe that what happened didn't matter, massively, more than anything else in my whole life - the occasional moment of escape from it can only be good. Two of them yesterday: roll on Cardiff.