When I moved to London back in 2012, I never could have imagined that I would still be here, seven years later. It had not been my ambition to live here. As a teenager, I wanted to live in the North partly, I think, because I liked a lot of Northern bands, but mostly because I’d spent some time there and thought it seemed like a friendly part of the country. London, by contrast, always struck me as distinctly unfriendly. I grew up associating it with avaricious types, desperately trying to climb the rat pile of ambition, and as a place where excessive greed and deprivation exists side-by-side. If my girlfriend hadn’t found work there I probably would have stayed where I was, in Leeds. But having spent six months on the dole while living in a damp flat on the edge of the city I was only too happy to try to make a go of it somewhere else.
For as long as I can remember I had never minded getting old, since being young has never really suited me. I don’t engage with or care about youth culture, I don’t own a smart phone and my idea of a good time is a night in watching kitchen sink dramas from the 1960s. What’s more, I don’t consider myself attractive or fashionable, which has meant that I’ve never had to worry about losing my youthful looks, because I don’t have any. It is only now in fact, a month before I turn thirty, that I have begun to think seriously about no longer being young and what, if anything, this means. For me the chief concern is that I might have wasted my time: wasted time working bad jobs, wasted time being friends with spiteful people, wasted time being unproductive or lazy.
These days, whenever I write about nostalgia, it tends to be with a degree of suspicion, since I feel that in the past five years or so this wistful, sentimental feeling has had a dramatic, self-destructive effect on world politics. People turn to the past in times of economic uncertainty. They pine for a simpler life, which they generally perceive to have exited when they were children, before the burden of responsibility had swept over them. Nostalgia allows them recall their youth in an overwhelmingly positive light—and so, for instance, white Americans who grew up in 1950s may feel that that period was synonymous with mini-skirts, Elvis Presley and economic dominance, rather than, say, brutally enforced racial segregation, the Korean War and McCarthyism.
Football, I’ve long maintained, is a package sport: to enjoy it you have to tolerate everything that comes with it—the constant advertising, corruption, hooliganism, tribalism, racism, offensively inane punditry. As a child I enjoyed football largely, I suspect, because I was not particularly aware of these things. It was only as I got older, when my knowledge of the game developed beyond what was happening on the pitch, that I began to lose interest in following it.