Monday, 14 November 2011


With a slightly seedy town centre that's populated by fewer and fewer squaddies, more and more boarded-up shops and numerous tattoo parlours, Aldershot might be synonymous with decay for many people. For me, however, it's very special, not because of the place itself, but because of the football club.

One of the league's perennial strugglers, almost always anchored in the old Division Four, Aldershot F.C. was my local team as a kid. From the day in 1984 that I persuaded my Dad to take me along to a friendly with Aberdeen (for whom a certain Alex Ferguson was the manager), I was hooked. The following year we got season tickets. It provided an outlet for suburban boredom and appealed to my sense of being an outsider - I revelled in being mocked by my Liverpool-supported classmates.

I then moved away to university. At that point, the club got into huge financial trouble and was taken over by a supposed teenage millionaire who turned out to be penniless. I followed the stories every day in the papers until the definitive news - in 1992 Aldershot F.C. went bust.

A few months later and the club had been reformed by its supporters as Aldershot Town F.C., starting in the lowest tier of non-league football. Soon afterwards, I moved to Spain. Ever since, I've followed the team's progress through the divisions until they finally made it back into the league. As a kid, I'd got to every single match, but I've had to get used to missing out on countless terrific occasions, forced to listen to radio commentary over the internet for the Play-Off final in Stoke, promotion in Torquay and then, worst of all, the cup tie with Manchester United last month. My teenage self would never have forgiven me!

My sense of being an ex-pat is intensified on such occasions. I've grown resigned to not seeing every match these days (I often only get to three or four a season), but one of the most important parts of my forthcoming trip to the U.K. is a visit to Aldershot for the 1st round F.A. Cup replay with Maidenhead United, all to take in the misted breath, the perfume of chips and tea, the supporters' frustration, rage and joy.

The following poem, taken from Inventing Truth, invokes a pivotal day when it really hit home to me that I was to become a visitor in this special atmosphere rather than a regular:

Last Season

It’s 3 p.m., a Saturday
in December 1990,
and Dad and I have reached our seats,
C8 and 9, the third row back,
in line with the penalty spot.

I’ve come here straight from the station
after two days at interview.
Now we win one-nil and we're through!
For the first time something other
than GOAL fills my mind as we score.

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