A work acquaintance rings me up - I haven't spoken to him for about 6 months. His sole purpose for ringing me? To offer me sympathy at the "plight of your team". Who does he support? Reading. He reckons that Newcastle v Reading will appear on the fixture list next season.
As I've mentioned before, I'm lucky enough to do a fair amount of travelling with my job. Which is great until some transport goes awry. Yesterday this happened to me with a delayed flight from Inverness to Manchester. Now, Inverness Airport isn't exactly an international hub, in fact I think my living room is about the same size as the departure lounge. Lets just say its one of the cosier airports in the world. A three and a half hour delay and you soon run out of options of things to do (although there was a Piper for a while, playing Bagpipes for a while to cheer us up - a few scowls and he scarpered). However, I was lucky enough to be kept company by a Saga tour of ladies who had been on a train tour of the Highlands for the past week and were flying back to the North West to return to the bosom of their families.
After getting offered boiled sweets (declined), asking if my computer could help with the crossword (accepted) and asking if I'd go to the cafe for them (accepted), I became the focus of their intrigue. After all the questions about why I was there, what did I do for a living and my family, they asked twigged that my accent wasn't "right" for someone from the North West. As soon as I said I was from Newcastle - one of them chirped up with "Oh dear, your football team is a bit rubbish isn't it?" Another "Yes, they shouldn't have got rid of Bobby Robson, he was a nice man" then there was a general discussion about the malaise at Newcastle United and then modern football in general. Fortunately they then became distracted as the snow started to fall.
A couple of thoughts about these snapshots... Firstly, football is a conversation point, a punctuation mark in connecting people. One of the reasons why I love the game. The second point is that whilst I don't really want sympathy or pity about the club I've supported all of my life, at least people want to talk to me because of who I support. Which says something for the re branding of the game since the 1970's and 1980's.
Tomorrow I'm taking my favourite Nephew to his first away game. I wonder how he's going to feel after a Goodison experience.... Come to that, I wonder how I'm going to feel? Somehow I doubt that sympathy or pity are going to be the overriding emotions.