The family and I moved to Bromley, a suburb in the South East of London, in May last year. For the schools, primarily. But also for a little piece of garden, an extra bedroom and an office that I didn't have to share with anybody except too many headphones and far too many books. On all these fronts we have been amply rewarded for our endeavours. And quite the endeavour it was. Just thinking of the last twelve months makes me want to faint onto my sofa in exhaustion. We packed, unpacked, repacked, moved things upstairs, moved things downstairs. We had to knock down a wall, rip out a kitchen, put in a new kitchen, replace power sockets, replace the satellite dish, replace the flooring...
But these days, when the weather is beginning to get a bit warmer and then sun a bit more forthright, I step outside and sometimes just stand there listening to the birdsong. Birdsong, I suppose, is a bit like love or hunger. You don't notice it until you do. And then you notice nothing else.
A few weeks ago, now that life seemed to have returned to a semblance of normalcy, I decided to go and see my local club play football. Frequent visitors to this blog will recall that once upon a time I used to live right outside Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. I now live a twenty minute walk away from Bomley FC's Hayes Lane ground. It is impossible to exaggerate the difference between the two venues.
This plan had been forming in mind for many, many weeks. What greater sign of commitment to your local community is there than to go and see the local football team play in the fifth tier of English football. Bromley FC play in the Vanarama National League.
Arsenal play in the Premier League. Then there is the Championship, League One, League Two and the National League. Confusingly enough the National League is what many people here call 'Non-league Football'. Because it is semi-professional at best, and a bunch of barbers and school teachers and accountants at worst.
Bromley FC, the night I went to see the Ravens for the first time, were sitting somewhere in the middle of the National League table. Which is not bad for a team that had only recently been promoted up to this level of football. (Organized English football, I am told, goes down fourteen levels. Crazy.)
The club, however, was coming off a somewhat bad run of form. They had just lost 4-0 in their previous game. And I was hoping my presence would perk things up. After all, in seven years of watching Arsenal play live at the Emirates infrequently, my club has won every single time. Really. It is a great record.
So the missus dropped me on Hayes Lane, and I walked down a dark path to the ground. Which wasn't too bad at all. Comparable to a good college football ground in Kerala in every aspect except for the excellent pub and the green pitch. I showed my ticket to the cheerful girl in club colours at the gate, walked up to the pitch, had a look around, nodded in self-satisfaction, and then went to the pub for a pint. Inside my jacket pocket I carried enough cash to procure a burger, chips (french fries) and tea at half time. It was a very cold night. But I soon found a vacant seat and sat down to enjoy...
Bromley conceded a penalty after five minutes. Braintree Town scored. 1-0. There was a murmur of disapproval in the stands. (Later I was informed that less than 500 people attended the match. More people get arrested for anti-social behaviour at each Manchester United game excluding players. However the murmur was strong.)
Then Bromley's Lee Minshull was sent off in the 16th minute.
In the 32nd minute Bromley's Daniel Johnson was also sent off. And in the ensuing brouhaha Bromley manager Neil Smith was also dismissed.
One minute later Bormley conceded another penalty. 2-0.
And just before half-time Braintree scored again. 3-0.
At half time I walked over to buy my burger, fries and tea in a mood that can only be called "Bencho yeh kya ho raha hai".
I was fully expecting to come back to my seat for the second half expecting to find the crowd in a violent mood. Instead I spent the next 45 minutes enjoying exquisite gallows humour. Resigned to humilation, the Bromley FC fans were indulging in some comedy to somehow get through the next 45 minutes. Memories of IIT-JEE papers came flooding back.
Braintree scored twice more by the 73rd minute.
I have never, in all my life, witnessed a more one-sided sporting event. (I have participated in a far more humiliating contest. But that is another story.)
When the final whistle was blown some fans stayed back to applaud the Bromley players back into the tunnel. The referee walked away to resounding boos. I applauded and booed respectively, had another drink, and then went back home. And then after thirty minutes of waiting for the missus to stop laughing I went to bed.
Bromley are playing at home again on the 25th.
I am conflicted.