Wednesday, 31 August 2011

How I faced the Tebbit test when Bath faced Tamworth

On Saturday, in Bath, I was asked by two different people, if I was struggling with the ‘Tebbit test’.

For those who don’t remember, former Tory hard-liner Norman Tebbit said that all those people who move to a new country should, in effect, support their adopted home in sporting terms as a sign of commitment to their host nation.

I always thought that this was hokum as I have friends and relatives in countries such as Australia and America who love their new abodes but are still fiercely pro-British. And so if they are allowed to ‘fail’ the test why can’t those people coming into the UK?

However, the question of split loyalties was what I still faced in a sporting sense on Saturday when the wonders of football saw me attend a match featuring the team of my adopted community, Bath City, against the team from my home town who I have followed for decades – Tamworth FC.

It has been said that men are more likely to change their wives than their football teams but I’ve always believed that when you arrive in a new area you should at least try and support the local clubs – without, crucially, abandoning your original ones.

It meant that on arriving here I immediately became a Bath Rugby follower (although that is easy as I didn’t have a rugby club before) and I duly adopted Bath City as my local football team.

But, on Saturday, as Bath ran out against Tamworth, I realised that you can’t change your heart and although I stayed as neutral as possible throughout and cheered chances at both ends, I knew that ultimately you can’t ever leave your true sporting love.

What I also realised – as I’ve always passionately believed – is that football at non-league level really is a joy and I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Twerton Park as much for the camaraderie and fun amongst both sets of supporters as for the action on the pitch.

As someone who began his association with non-league football by selling programmes at Tamworth FC’s ground and then spending more than a decade reporting both home and away on the club for my old local paper, I had the pleasure of travelling all around the country and meeting so many people whose main passion for their home town was manifested in their local football team.

The grounds weren’t always beautiful (and the football certainly wasn’t) but there is a real spirit about grassroots sport that makes all the shenanigans of the multi-millionaires in the Premiership seem like a different, and far less pleasant, world.

So, my overriding thoughts about Saturday’s game were all positive. I realised how much I liked and admired Bath City and their fans and I realised again that, once the seed of love for a team is planted inside you, that love never dies. As the chant goes Tamworth FC 'I'll love you til I die...'

You’ll notice, incidentally, that I haven’t mentioned the score of Saturday’s game and that is because I genuinely think I was the only person in the ground who didn’t care who won. Put simply, I just didn’t want either side to lose.

So did I fail the Tebbit test? Possibly.

But did I remember again how much I love non-league football? Definitely.

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