Being taken to a game by your dad for the first time is probably the most clichéd and widely-cherished memory held by football fans. In some lights, its not a pleasant business or a positive thing to inflict on any child, the skag-like descent into irrationality, hatred and despair.
Even in defeat, you'll spend a lifetime chasing that first ultimate high, to places that will beat to death the idea of glamour or romance, particularly in the lower leagues. Away trips to rain-lashed retail parks and Frankie and Benny's and closed Odeon cinemas in the midlands and the south, or shut-on-weekends fishing towns or dead former mining communities in Scotland or the North, well-conditioned against the thought-crime of questioning for a second why you might be there. For some people, there will be highs like it again, but for most there won't, and so pleasure comes in the form of little victories. Last-minute away wins, derby victories, and meaningless promotions.
The rest of the justification comes in the form of simple pleasures, and the greatest of those was always the post-match ritual of listening to the other results in the car afterwards, being soothed back into human reality by the warm tones of James Alexander Gordon, the man who read them out on the BBC. Listening to the results come in on the radio was a shared, pseudoreligious experience. Even in the age of the smartphone and the tablet, it was still the most efficient way to take it in, to listen to what had happened, tune out the ones we didn't care about, take in the ones we did, and just have it on in the background because we wanted to get away from the ground as quickly as possible and try and track down a fish supper that looked safe from opposition fans and E-Coli.
Because obviously, no football fan lives in a bubble of only caring about one result. When you're from an immigrant family, you get two teams -- one from where you're from, and one from where you live now, so the Rangers result had to be listened out for as well as the United result, and that didn't come until after the English leagues. And before that, the teams you liked to see do well, the local clubs where we'd gone to college and used to frequent on odd hungover Saturdays, and cheering on being reminded of Leeds' existence when hearing that they'd lost 2-0 to Reading.
For most of it, you don't really care about the result, just an occasional raised eyebrow at a 5-3 or a 7-0, so the classic game to be played, which was perhaps specific to Gordon, was to guess the result by the intonation of his voice alone. There were a few ways of doing this, mostly relying on some repeated tricks. "Sheffield Wednesday two", he would begin, businesslike, before lowering his tone to another level of seriousness to deliver the punchline, "Rotherham, nil." And then another, beginning in the same way. "Huddersfield town one," before a raised voice eliciting mild surprise and a sort of 'good-on-them' vibe, "Brighton and Hove Albion..." Three? Four? "Six!" Six! Well, they are building a decent squad by the looks of it, yer uncle said he had fifty quid on them to go up this year.
Heading to Liverpool
Heading to Liverpool
Because of that, an enormous amount of British men had a personal, intimate relationship with Gordon and his voice. Most football fans could pick him out of a dark room full of crying men. The results are important - they've appeared in life-defining moments in novels by Nick Hornby and Irvine Welsh. The former, as the backdrop to a middle-class love story involving an Arsenal fan, and the latter, as the titular, drug-addict hero of the novella "A Smart C**t" plays the intonation game, finding out his rivals Hearts have lost during an orgasm with a girl on his sofa. And those sometimes comforting, sometimes despairing, sometimes life-changing results are inseparable from Gordon's voice.
That gave him a longer shelf-life than the likes of Des Lynam, John Motson, or any pundit. All he did was read out the results, an exercise in pure truth. No opinion. No "I've-seen-some-games-in-my-time-and-let-me-tell-you", no "Heart of Midlothian two, Dundee United three, and they were absolutely robbed, I have to say." Because of that, he's probably the only man involved in the sport that literally everybody liked. Hell, he was probably the only man in the sport that nobody ever fantasised about braining with a tire-iron. And that's going to be difficult to replace.