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Steve Hill column: Nothing can fill this void

FEELING BLUE: Chester fans get behind their team

By Steve Hill

What day is it? Who are we playing? Has Asante travelled?

With the obvious caveat that there are people in the world with real problems, it’s fair to say that it is a discombobulating time to be a football fan. Thrust into a sport-free existence, it has been a terrifying glimpse into the monumentally dull lives of non-believers, devoid of any structure or meaning.

Of course, compared to the unfolding horror, football is utterly meaningless. But the perhaps unspoken truth is that it has always been meaningless, which is one of the great things about it. You can absolutely lose your mind over some perceived injustice, but at the end of the day there’s always another game to look forward to.

Except now there isn’t, and we don’t know when there will be, fixture lists rendered redundant, mocking us with their unfulfilled delights. Oh to be in Hereford on Good Friday, which is where The Mighty Chester should have been, loudly supported by my good self. An unfathomably long drive rewarded by a couple of cheeky pints in the Ronnie Radford Bar.

A barely perceptible nod to a few familiar faces. Squeezing into the narrow Edgar Street turnstile on kickoff, shoving a sweaty burger into my gaping maw then hurling abuse into the ether from an horrendously obstructed view. It might not be everyone’s idea of a dream day out, but compared to the current situation it’s like Disneyland at Christmas.

What do we get instead? Endless repeats of old football. Whereas I am comfortably spending my internment watching old films, listening to old music and reading old books, I have little or no interest in old sport. I won’t even watch a Match Of The Day much more than 24 hours after broadcast, tossed aside like a rotten takeaway.

The essence of sport is in the unscripted drama, the feral abandonment of the senses. As such, it really has to be live. Watching a 20-year-old match is little more than a pointless predetermined ballet, devoid of suspense or context, anathema to all but a cabal of look back bores.

And what of traditional sports media? Is Sky Sports News still rolling? I occasionally check in on talkSPORT, where the banter merchants are trying manfully to maintain a semblance of normality.

Indeed, as part of his midday check-in feature, Max Rushden recently announced to the nation that instead of heading to a match I was drying naturally following a long bath, something that proved to be the highlight of my Saturday. And I didn’t hear it, but I have been informed of a section whereby Tony Cascarino named his five favourite Barry Manilow songs.

I’ve got a lot of time for Cascarino – his autobiography is gripping, and he once bought me a steak in a casino – but sometimes you say it best when you say nothing at all. Following the tragic death of Princess Diana, Queen of Hearts, many radio stations simply broadcast choral music, out of respect, arguably a more dignified alternative to this endless filler.

Everyone has an opinion as to how this season should be concluded, and mine is as insignificant as any. I don’t have a coherent plan, but instinctively feel that those 32 Chester league games should count for something, not least due to the thousands of miles and hundreds of pounds that I have committed to them.

Arguably more so for the players – Chester defender Simon Grand has played every minute of every match, and would surely relish the opportunity to complete his playing card. I think he’s about 42 so the chance may not come around again.

And finally, to the sound of the world’s smallest violin, my next book has been suspended indefinitely. One man’s journey through the sporting calendar, it now reads like the last days of Rome, beginning with a hung over solo drive to Guiseley, an unsuccessful search for chippy, and the gut-wrenching despair of conceding an injury time equaliser. A truly magical day.

Hopefully such blissful times shall come again. Until then I remain a soul in isolation, dreaming of the day when I once more stand on a crumbling terrace and bellow, “Come on Blues, these are garbage!”

Nominated for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, The Card: Every Match, Every Mile by Steve Hill is published by Ockley Books


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