The southbound platform was busy. On one side were many men, and on the other a pair in Arsenal jerseys among a salad of attractive tourists and youthful couples. A part of me hoped that violence would erupt out of nowhere but everyone was civil. Recent results dictated that, on the train, many of the men were silent, pensive, imbuing the carriage with a sombre atmosphere. Small groups spoke quietly between themselves, trailing off at various stations for various entrances, a journey they had done many times before. In the mid-nineties, my father would take me and my brother on such a journey, from Tower Hill along the green that snaked but straightened overhead. Dirt collected in the grooves of wooden floors. Almost thirty years ago. The city and football were very different back then; I was quite similar, you see, but my bones and all of my organs were different; my future was a stem, my history had milk teeth.
    At Fulham Broadway, the car emptied, filing along and around the stairs and through the barriers and metal fences, a route dotted with fluorescent police officers and community support personnel. A man sold half-and-half scarves and pins. Behind a supermarket was the stench of bins, of their thick syrup dribbling, of cardboard boxes twined into cubes and condensers puttering hot breath. I’m outside by the bins. The police looked up from their lighthearted conversation as he, with many others, emerged from the tunnel, smiling towards me. There were shades of blue going left & right, almost directionless. I dare not look up, why? Might I see the floodlights and structure? We went into a dark pub for a breakfast drink, already doormen, already asking to see inside my bag, TV screens tuned to Sky. We took a seat and some pints. A group of brummies sat beside us; again I hoped for violence and again everyone was civil. The five of them, young and buzzing, old friends, chatted with the shots girl who led a trail of jägerbomb incense through the punters. They raised their glasses and sunk in unison. Slowly the venue filled. My friend and I caught up. He told me that a former colleague of ours had gone blind. That was what we did, I suppose, we spoke of our life’s work, we confused what was sad with what was funny, the past we made fun of was too hard to be taken on alone. We both credited the other with keeping us sane during lockdown and now we were back to taking freedom for granted.
    From down on the ground we walked up & up, ramps and gates, turnstiles, security checks, concrete and steel accented with the club colours, until we emerged onto the incline and before us the pitch, so green, too perfect for the middle of a city, to the tune of Liquidator and September-tired men shuffling like crabs to their seats. They knew each other and had done for years, strangers assigned proximity by some administrative flick of the wrist or booking system algorithm. As the game played out, fourteenth vs. sixth, the men bickered and chuckled, berating the players, different fans berating different players at different times, as though responsibilities and shifts had been agreed beforehand.
    I recalled what I could of Williams’ poem about the ball game, a line here & there, very little. By then I was neither drunk nor sober and all of my environment came at me secondhand, as though someone else had already taken their fill of the moment. Later on, when I tried to recall it, I could not do so vividly, almost as if we were separated by days.