The View of a Newcomer
* A year ago, @messerbest wrote this piece to be featured on Hackbridge Harry’s brilliant blog, we thought it would be great to share it on the South London is Black and White site. All the same things still apply.*
I started coming to TMUFC towards the end of the glorious 16/17 campaign. Just the odd home match. I’m not sure what it was that particularly spurred me onto the 280 bus from Amen Corner that particular day. Maybe it was nothing more than a rare free Saturday afternoon. But I got on the bus and I went. It wouldn’t be the last time.
I’ve lived in and around Tooting for fourteen years. I arrived a slip of a man at 21 years old after three years at university in Cardiff and eighteen years in my native County Down, Northern Ireland. I lived with three mates in the centre of Tooting. Like most of my peers at that time, we moved to Tooting because it was one of the most affordable places to live in London. Zone 3, the Deep South. Beyond the estate agent belt of Clapham and a hair’s breadth beyond the upwardly mobile bollocks of Balham. Wandsworth council tax. Just over £100 a week in rent. It was a different place in 2004. Several boozers felt like “no-go” zones. A couple were “let’s go anyway” zones. I remember convincing my girlfriend’s parents (now my inlaws) that Tooting was *nothing like* the reputation it had, as we came up the escalators at Tooting Broadway for their first visit. On exiting the station, I subtly (but firmly) grasped the hand of a young woman being accosted by a drunk lad and walked her down the pavement without my in-laws realising. As we turned into my street yards later, I created a loud diversion to distract them from another lad pissing in a bin. Tooting was lively. But I loved it. Love it.
I have lived within a mile of my first London address for the 14 years I’ve been here. Have strayed into Colliers Wood and the tip of Mitcham, but stayed in the orbit of Tooting. Watched it change. It has changed a great deal. In the last decade I have seen some of the no-go boozers become a different kind of nogo boozer, because of the £6 pints and £15 cheeseburgers. Seen them change for the better too, in fairness. I’ve seen shop fronts and kiosks pop up where I can buy craft beer, organic food and fair trade textiles. This is all completely brilliant. I like these things. The downside of all this, of course, is that as a place becomes more “desirable”, it becomes more expensive. Foxtons begin to circle the wagons, whipping up frenzied news articles in the Evening bastard Standard, yelling about how Tooting is now home to the best teapot cocktails in London and therefore stick another £3k on the price of a maisonette. The chains move in. The conglomerate service providers. People picket for a Waitrose. It’s happening. And, you know, this is what it is. I can’t very well enjoy the opportunity to have Lebanese food delivered to my door in 20 minutes and not expect changes to the place that I live in. “Gentrification” is a real thing, and it isn’t confined to SW17. This is an issue in every city in the country, even though no-one seems to have any more money 20 years ago.
And this is football too, a bit, innit? We can’t reasonably enjoy the elite standard we have at the top of the professional game without paying £1000 for a season ticket and £5 for a pie and £90 a month for a Sky Sports subscription, plus another £20 for BT Sport, plus £100 for a return trip to the aways etc. etc. etc. Watching the football is an expensive hobby. Or so I’m told. I grew up a Liverpool fan in Northern Ireland, and I remain a distantly passionate Red. A season ticket has never been an option. Games that I’ve seen at Anfield have been expensive excursions. I have nothing but respect for people who commit to season tickets, especially those who do it from a distance. Every other weekend, a stack of money and a stack of time. It’s a hell of a thing to dedicate oneself to, particularly if money is an issue and there’s family to be considered. Football is expensive. Where I live is expensive.
I am at the bus stop at Amen Corner. I’ve had a pint at the Ramble Inn. I am going to Tooting and Mitcham United. I arrive at a ground that exceeds my expectations of a ground at this level. I have a pint that exceeds my expectations for a pint at this level. I pay £3.50 for it. It came from a brewery 2 miles away. I pay £10 for entry. I pay £1.70 for a jerk lamb pattie which exceeds my expectations for a jerk lamb pattie at this level. I watch the football. And guess what? It exceeds..... Admittedly, this first game is the Stripes on the crest of a wave in 100+ points season. Billy Dunn, who will become my first ever Terror idol, is imperious. But the whole experience is excellent. It’s 20 minutes from my flat and for £15 odd I’ve watched the game, had a pie and a pint and, crucially, enjoyed a very decent 2 hours at the ground.
I feel like I shouldn’t be the only one. I feel like in the last number of years many hundreds of people like me have become denizens of Tooting and Mitcham. People who’ve moved to the area and want to experience something of our community beyond the avocados and coffees. Be part of a thing that existed long before we got here and which will exist after we inevitably are forced to move beyond the M25. Perhaps this is a rallying cry for the recent arrivals to the area. If you’d like to be watching your elite side, but you aren’t going and they aren’t on telly, come to the KNK and watch your local side the odd time. Put a few quid into an historical part of the place where we live. You’ll notice at the ground that the sponsors are all local, independent businesses, the sort of business we pride ourselves on wanting to support in our day to day lives as we shop and eat and drink in our town. Come and be part of that. Bring some pals. Introduce yourself to some of the people in the ground and I guarantee they’ll be pleased to see you.
* A whole season since this post was written, more or less. It’s all still relevant, to us at least. @messerbest has renewed his season ticket for the 19/20 season and hopes to see many new faces there.*