An image of Britishness in Black & White

a short guide for the rest of you

What is it like to be British?

Quintessentially we can be boring, stoic, and reserved, especially whilst drinking tea.

Yet we undergo a magnificent metamorphosis when we attend our most popular sport: football. Other countries call it soccer, but its correct name is football – period.

Here we become dramatic, vociferous, and unreserved. We can also forgo the need to drink tea for at least forty-five minutes.

Where else in the entire world would you ever find over twelve thousand people on a Monday evening pulsing with passion, pride, and patriotism whilst supporting two teams that occupy positions 97 and 98 in the football pyramid?

I was there at this festival of Britain at its most bizarre and beautiful – Notts County v Grimsby Town in the one-off shoot-out National League eliminator playoff match. These sudden death battles are great if your team has already secured promotion and you can watch them from the comfort of either your Englishman’s castle or thatched cottage ─ since these are our typical abodes ─ with ale in one hand and Bombay mix in the other. Otherwise they are tense, tight, and traumatic.

On this occasion I watched the duel from the relative solitude of the press box. Unusual since I am real supporter, facing around a six-hour round trip to each home match. Another often hidden characteristic of being British: utterly bonkers.

Up in the Gods I felt the vibrations of the chaos of the crowd ripple through me like a force of nature. Noise is natural, yet this feeling shook me to the very core of my being. I was once again securely plugged into the city of my birth.

The game? The usual spice. Notts took the lead, Grimsby scored with the last kick of the game in normal time and then went on to win in the dying embers of extra time, replicating the necessary Shakespearean twist.

Will I be back next season? Of course! Being properly British is about being loyal to the bitter end.

So, if you ever visit the British Isles don’t be misled by the cultural icons of the Royal family, Stonehenge, and Stratford-upon-Avon. We are at our most British when we are at the football.

And the only place to really experience this uniqueness is at Meadow Lane, NG2 3HJ.

© Ian Kirke 2022 / @ianjkirke