Somewhere along the line I fell out of love with football. Well, I’ve fallen back in love. And I’ve fallen hard.

A while back, I started going to matches at my local non-league football team, Dulwich Hamlet. It was cheap, within walking distance of my house, and the atmosphere was much less belligerent, much less aggressive, much less spiteful than I’d come to expect from football matches. In short, much more family-friendly. And with pride flags and trans flags hanging in the bar, an International Brigades flag behind one goal and a ‘Don’t Buy the Sun’ banner behind the other, I felt very much at home.

It was a very casual thing. If there was a match on and I was at a loose end, I’d go. Something to do.

But fast forward a couple of years and I seem to have found myself as something of a women’s football ultra.

It’s safe to say I did not see this coming.

Let me backtrack a little...

I’d been to a few women’s games over the past couple of seasons but always took the kids and sat in what is essentially the family stand. It’s actually the only stand but for women’s games it is predominantly filled with families. It’s very sedate. At the start of this season I noticed a small group of fans on the other side of the pitch, calling themselves The Pepper Army.

They were very loud and seemed to be enjoying themselves - plus, like me, they clearly liked a bit of wordplay - so I thought that maybe I should head over there to enjoy the atmosphere. And so I spent the next few games on the fringes of this group. Not quite brave enough to approach them but enthusiastically joining in with the chants.

(At this point, I have to tell you that non-league football chants are The Best - in the course of a match, we take in variations on tunes by Leonard Bernstein, The Specials, Miley Cyrus, Salt & Pepa, Depeche Mode, Ini Kamoze, Beastie Boys, Greig and the theme tune to The OC.)

Then, one fateful day in November, the team had an away match in the FA Cup against Billericay. Now I don’t go back to Essex for many people but I had to make this trip. And that, as they say, was that. Over the course of a few hours in Billericay, I was embraced by The Pepper Army and taken in as one of their own.

And so, at the ripe old age of 42, I’ve found a new group of brilliant friends. And we have a lot of fun. Plus, the connection with the players is something I’ve not experienced before.

They genuinely appreciate our support (this is how some of us ended up crashing the team’s Christmas party - invited, I should add - and how I ended up messaging one on Christmas Day to show her my kids playing her chant - the OC one, no less - on their new kazoos) - and this makes for a better atmosphere all round.

This is what football should be. This is what I want my kids to grow up believing football to be. And to my delight, now, when I ask my son if he wants to come to the football, he asks, “Men’s or women’s?” and if I say men’s, he says, “No thanks”.

The boy’s in the Pepper Army now and I couldn’t be prouder.

The original version of this article first appeared in issue 23 of Sonshine magazine - a quarterly magazine taking a positive slant on parenting sons, to create a better world for all our children.

Instagram: sonshinemagazine




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