So I took my seat on the front row of the main stand at Broadhurst Park, home of FC United of Manchester. I placed my programme, my ticket and my Hollands Pepper Steak Pie in front of me and paused for breath. Some of the Lancaster City substitutes were warming up, knocking the ball back and forth to each other. The tannoy was playing a Jam song, I think, and there was chatter around me about other things than the game we were about to see. And never have I felt happier to be in a football ground.
The last game I'd been to was Blackburn Rovers v Swansea City at the end of February, seven months, two weeks and five days earlier.
The pie, the Bovril and the smell of football were the first things I sensed. But as the match progressed it was other things that reminded me why watching matches on TV has been no substitute. It was a decent, physical, boisterous game which ended 1-1. Lancaster should really have won, but you notice so much more by immersing yourself in a game over 90 minutes. You see how players move off the ball, how the bench communicates to them and what the shape of either team is. But even with just 600 people in a tidy new stadium like this, and everyone sensibly observing social distancing, there was a decent enough atmosphere. I never thought I'd enjoy hearing "liner" getting verbals from the home fans as much as I did. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think he enjoyed it too. The players certainly did. There was plenty of good old fashioned shithousery and off the ball niggling for it to rile the home fans. For Lancaster it was one of the bigger crowds they get to play in front of and the players relished it.
That was it really, the collective experience. It's what makes us human and it's what makes football more than a game. Football without fans really is nothing.
And it was another new ground, obviously not one of the 92 (or 91 this season), but the 159th ground I've watched football on.