I grew up listening to the Archers. No, that’s understating it. I probably heard Barwick Green while I was still in the womb. My mother, you see, is a lifelong devotee. The radio has always been an important part of my life from Listen With Mother (which I did, both ante and post natal) through radio dramas and book serialisations to timeless comedies like Hancock and ISIHAC. The Archers was the stitch that held the whole thing together. I can still vividly recall where I was when Mike Tucker lost an eye, Eddie took Clarrie to Norfolk for their anniversary and whenever I think of Mark Hebdon’s death I am transported back to the kitchen in my old house, the sense of shock which stopped me in my tracks as I prepared our supper, as palpable today as it was all those years ago.
When the internet arrived and grew into a feature of our daily lives I discovered to my joy that the BBC had set up what was then known as a message board for people like myself who’s real lives were hopelessly entangled with the radio soap. We could discuss our favourite characters, rage at the ones we disliked and argue with one another over how awful or dire the current episode was. I discovered that far from being a bland middle class woman with a penchant for horses and other people’s husbands, Shula was in fact a hate figure for many of the shows most ardent fans. Nigel was loved and David despised, everybody loathed the writers but nowhere near as much as the editor and were to a man and woman all mildly deranged. I loved it.
It was baffling but wonderful to be connected with a world wide network of similarly minded people and to realise just how much more they knew about the show than I did and how much more they cared and how many of them seemed to find listening to it little short of torture. The years passed and the message board became as important if not more so than the programme itself. Even if I missed an episode I knew what folk thought of the plot (ridiculous) the acting (lamentable) the producer (sack her!) and could weigh in with my own venomous or light hearted contributions.
Then they killed Nigel.
In a move more Albert Square than Ambridge the powers that be decided that the Archers sixtieth anniversary was such a big occasion it ought to be marked in some dramatic fashion. Not just with a documentary or a book release but within the story arc of the show itself. They broke the rules. They killed off a much loved character in a ridiculous fashion and without the merest passing thought of the history of the show and what made it great. It was a cheap shot and a needless one and many of us were so outraged we vowed never to listen again and I haven’t.
I realise now that had I not dived into the world of online dissection and over reaction I would probably never have known I should have been so cross about Nigel’s death. I would in all likelihood have continued with my curious, furtive addiction and still be enjoying the goings on at Brookfield to this day. As I looked through the swirling cesspool of anguish and over blown emotion on both sides of the internet debate in which the simple love of football has drowned since Sunday’s defeat, I can’t help wondering if I’ve been making the same mistake all over again.
Back in the day, when there were wolves in Radstock and hair on my head, I used to turn eagerly to the sports pages in the hope that there would be something – anything – about Arsenal. If there wasn’t it was a disappointment but I got over it. When the scientific revolution exploded into our homes I discovered people were blogging about the club. Some of them were doing a pretty good job too, more honest and earthy than the staid journalists, more partisan. I was cock a hoop. I could read about Arsenal every day, guaranteed, some times from two or three different perspectives. Once I plucked up the courage to add a comment or two I was suddenly swept along on a wave of conversation, commiseration, celebration and tactical analysis. I was through the back of the wardrobe and into a world I couldn’t have dreamed possible.
Nowadays the prospect of Arsenal taking a trip to Spain in the hope of conquering impossible odds in the European cup isn’t one of nervous anticipation. Instead it is an exercise in wading through despair, factionalism, hatred, argument for its own sake and a long drawn out game of playground one-upmanship. Trust me there won’t be any winners in this. I’ve been down this road before. If we football fans don’t find a way to just enjoy the matches as they come and shrug off the inevitable defeats as we once did, we might wake up one morning to find our love of the game suffocated by this artificial world of the armchair expert and the keyboard warrior.
Before you point out the irony of me using a football blog to make this statement, I’ve got that already. Also there’s no need to tell me that football is different from every other passion, is special in some way because I don’t believe it is. There could come a day, and it might come sooner than you think, when all of this garbage that sadly envelopes what could and should be a fun way to stay in touch with other supporters actually destroys our passion for the club. It may already be too late. We may already be in free fall, or we may just be teetering on the edge.
I am painfully aware that I ought to be excited at the prospect of an historic European night right now, and not concerned at the reaction if we don’t make it. If I feel like this, imagine what it must be like for the honourable, decent man who stands every day at the eye of the storm. He must feel like climbing to the roof of Lower Loxley.