Easter’s Endgame

Easter time is always a packed programme of events, rituals and fixtures, all loaded with significance. As millions head for airport escapes and delays or domestic breaks and traffic jams, the long bank-holiday weekend unfolds. Easter bonnet parades still colour corners of the nation and families make efforts to spend time together. And there are football fixtures.

It’s a heady brew on the Christian calendar, with its betrayal to resurrection narrative bookending the extraordinary story of the last days of Jesus. Re-enactment crucifixion scenes played-out around the world on Good Friday transform at breakneck speed from sufferer to spirit by Easter Sunday. Millions congregate to celebrate the occasion. And there are football results to check.

Cadbury’s (and others) learned how to cash-in on a more Pagan take on Easter. If eggs came to symbolise birth and renewal more akin to the spring rhythms of the natural world, chocolate manufacturers cracked the market – so to speak – in a new way. The 1870s saw the advent of the chocolate Easter egg, since when we’ve been scoffing them in monumental numbers rather than rolling real ones down hills in long-lost traditions. And then there’s football.

Fixtures come in a sugar-rush over Easter. It’s the start of the Endgame (a term for the last stages in a chess match), when team prospects become more clearly defined, when supporters know whether their club is in with a chance of promotion or European qualification or fighting to avoid relegation. How will our team shape up to the pressure? There will be a profusion of ‘six-pointer’ matches, drama galore over ninety minutes and more in grounds, large and small, around the country. There will be transformations as teams rediscover winning ways or spiral down a losing streak. Freak results and feelings of fate come to permeate these final weeks.

All extra spice added to football come Easter time. As if it needed any! Relations between teams and fans become more intense, emotions more easily aroused. We ready ourselves for huge disappointments and mass celebrations. But if we identify ourselves with this or that club – that community – we are also part of a wider congregation, a world community. And the game today still carries the spirit of the words in the book I’ve just read: ‘The Football Man’ by Arthur Hopcraft. It is reckoned, by those who know their stuff, to be one of the best books ever written on football.

Published in 1968, it speaks of a game in transition, from Brylcreem, tidy-haircut players to the flowing locks of George Best, from perpetual muddy pitches to professional referees. Hopcraft tells the reader: ‘I am a reporter trying to reach to the heart of what football is’. Keeping that heart in good health is the supporter. How? Because fans can feed off the uniqueness of the sport as football feeds off fans.

This is how Hopcraft sees it. ‘The sound of a big football crowd baying its delight and its outrage has no counterpart. It is the continuous flow of football that excites the sustained crescendo. All other spectator sports are episodic in action … In football the action is only interrupted by fouls (plus VAR these days!), which add fiercely to the crowd’s responses, and when the ball goes out of play, which is often in the most hectic circumstances. It is this constancy of conflict that makes football the most satisfying of sports to watch. Because the framework is so simple, so uncluttered, the pictures which fill it can be endlessly varied.’

So, as football reaches fever-pitch, we cling onto commentaries minute by minute and check time on the terraces as if we’ve all developed the same tic. The City Ground has generated a collective energy this Easter to help Forest tease out points they desperately need. If a draw with Crystal Place had us in pragmatic mode – ‘a point’s a point’ – that emphatic, flood-lit win against Fulham, renewed faith in survival. That’s how quickly football’s Easter story can unfold in unforeseen ways. As we enter the final leg, the home straight, the Endgame, hope is the fuel that drives us on, supporters of all teams in all divisions.

To finish with the words of Hopcraft: ’Football matters, as poetry does to some people and alcohol does to others … Football is inherent in the people … There is more eccentricity in deliberately disregarding it than in devoting a life to it. The way we play the game, organise it and reward it reflects the kind of community we are.’ That’s pre-Premiership thinking, pre a lot of things that have happened in the game in the last few decades, but it still holds good for many of us. Collective hope thrives and that includes miracles on the pitch!

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Morgan Gibbs-White enjoyed a decent Easter fixtures return for Forest.

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