If I had a penny for each and every time I was asked if I genuinely enjoyed watching Telford United, I’d be able to buy the club outright. Well, maybe not buy it outright, but you catch my drift.
I’ve been a regular in the stands at Telford now since 2002, but, like many others, Telford United wasn’t the first football team I had went to watch. In the latter half of the 1998/99 season, I had won two tickets in a school competition to attend a game at Molineux between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace. To my Father, a life long Wolves fan, this was music to his ears. However, it didn’t really excite me quite as much. I had a vague interest in the sport and enjoyed a kick about with friends, but I wasn’t exactly a fanatic. From what I can remember, I don’t think I supported a team at all. Nevertheless, my Father and I attended the game. It ended 0-0 and I can honestly say I have no recollection of anything that happened on the pitch. Though according to the old man, there wasn’t anything worth noting anyway. It really didn’t do it for me. In fact, the comment I remember from my Father was – “There must have been one hell of a game in the clouds because you spent all afternoon looking at the sky.”
The next memory I have of football is an England game on the TV. The World Cup qualifier with Greece in which David Beckham grabbed a late equaliser to guarantee qualification. I definitely had a little bit more of an interest in football at this point or else I wouldn’t have bothered to watch. After that I remember watching the 2002 World Cup and I always refer back to that as when I first started to take a real interest in football. It must have shown as one Saturday afternoon in August, my Grandfather decided to take me along to watch Telford United. He was an avid supporter who had followed the club for over 20 years, but for me, I had no idea Telford even had a football team. They were playing a home fixture against Doncaster Rovers, a game which was to be my first taste of what I later knew as non-league football. I paid my £3 admission fee and purchased a programme for £2 before we housed ourselves behind the goal, the David Hutchison stand. This was the only terracing for home supporters with a roof and as the weather wasn’t great, despite it still being August, we didn’t fancy getting rained on. The first 45 minutes came to an end with the visitors in complete control, heading back to the make shift portakabin changing rooms 4 goals to the good. All I could take from that was that Telford were abysmal and Doncaster had very impressive away support and were incredibly vocal. The team’s returned to the field and what I was about to witness can only be described as falling in love for the first time. Telford responded with 4 goals of their own and managed to salvage a point, despite an early second half red card being awarded to Telford midfielder, Jordan King (Jordan went on to become my favourite player, despite being painfully bad). How could I not want to see more?
Hand on heart, that is what started this love affiliation I have with a bog standard non league football club from Shropshire. Not just the results, because, truth be told, that season we survived relegation one game before the end of the campaign and the football was hideous. But the way you connect with a club at this level. I remember after I was bought my first ever Telford shirt, at the home game against Yeovil (we lost 5-0), I’d stand and wait for the players to come out and warm up before the game and ask them to sign it. I did this for a few home games until I had all of their autographs and due to my time pestering them, they’d remember my face. Then they’d ask my name. Suddenly, I was being greeted by my first name as footballers said hello to me and instantly I felt connected. I felt appreciated. All of that is fantastic but what I’d say finally sealed it, was the gesture from then manager Jake King – Father of my favourite player, Jordan. It was a Tuesday night game in early spring and I was stood with my Grandfather behind the home dugout, our new vantage point. The teams took to the pitch and then the subs and coaching team headed for the bench. Jake leant over the crush barrier and handed my Grandfather a signed football to give to me. Now, it’s not anything major and it certainly wouldn’t mean anything to most. But to a 9 year old boy to recieve a gesture as kind as that, from someone who has no connection to me whatsoever, showed me exactly how much clubs at this level of football value their supporters. If I’d have attended Wolves’ games on a regular basis after my visit there in 1999, I’d have undoubtedly seen a better standard of football. What I wouldn’t have had is a football club that I feel connected to. A club where I can associate with my heroes on first name terms. A club where the manager goes out of his way to make you feel on top of the world.
I could delve deeper and list story upon story about why I love Telford United, but none will mean more than the one I’ve just told.
So, to answer the question I’m asked 5 times a week by my friends who support their elite franchise clubs from the comfort of the local public house – Do I really enjoy watching that every week? No. Not always. But you’ll never have a fraction of the love for your Liverpool, your Manchester United or your Arsenal, as I do for my football club.