This is perhaps the longest tribute to a piece of furniture that I have ever written. I miss it, and I don’t, but I always carry it with me (not like that, I’m not a Leeds fan).
The year is 1996, and the place is a seat near the front of the Kilner Bank Stand of Huddersfield’s Alfred McAlpine Stadium.
There are a couple of teenage boys next to one another there; there is nothing unusual about them to look at, though they are beginning to become a couple of teenage boys, rather than a couple of boys with a parent or guardian nearby.
Huddersfield Town are playing a League Cup tie against Colchester United, an uninspiring affair that only around 5,000 fans have roused themselves to attend.
Those seats you saw, and those teenage boys you saw, were as one for a number of years. Come rain, come shine, come snow and come hail, they sat in those seats, just close enough to the front feel the effect of whichever of those weather conditions was going on.
They see victories and defeats, great goals, horrendous misses, players on their way to greatness and, sadly, some horrific injuries.
They travel to away games together, seeing the same lists of things but in different stadia as well, but always interjected by their return to their home seat.
They know the people around them, the family that grows happily in the row behind, the father and son, himself a teenager at first, who arrive just before kickoff and everyone stands up to let them past, greeting them happily.
Saturdays and Tuesdays become part of this community. The two are asked about away games if those near them didn’t attend, sometimes even about reserve games, because they go to those, too.
It will go on forever, this pair of supporters; eventually theirs will be the swelling families in these seats, theirs the teenage sons who arrive just about in time. This is the nature of football, you own just a small part of it, and you pass it on to the next generation.
The year is 2017, the John Smith’s Stadium is packed to the rafters, every seat cherished and wanted, every supporter full of the hope and expectation that only a new season can bring, the gnarled memories of disappointments of the past filed away as unnecessary.
A tall man walks down the front of the Britannia Rescue Stand, for all things in modern football that can have a company name attached will do. He has finished a conversation with an old friend, someone he knew as a teenager, but has left behind.
They reminisced happily, about all they wanted to be and all they are, about close friends they still see; two lives separated by much but held together by much, too. Friendships like that are rare, and he thinks that, this tall man, as he walks along the front of the stand to his seat.
He stops at the bottom of stairway leading up to it. There is a young family there; a dad, a mum and a girl of about four is in his seat.
She is wearing the blue and white striped home shirt, her face is painted and she looks utterly joyous to be there.
It is a far cry from how I used to be in that seat, he thinks, but she has not – can not – have enjoyed the same experiences I had there, the ups and the downs, the happiness and the sadness, not yet, not all of it. He hopes she does.
He looks behind the girl; the family that was always swelling is still there. He waves to them, and they wave back, but he is a memory now. They used to see him every week, but it is now barely once every two or three years. The seat that was once his is now someone else’s, and their community is with them.
He walks on, to an unfamiliar seat in the corner of the stand. He is happy to be there, but sad, too. So much has changed, so much that once was there is missing, so much happiness that he found there is now elsewhere. He does not return often, and he will not return often.
The year is 2035, and the HDOne Kilner Bank Stand opens its gates early to allow in the crowd to enjoy the summer festival that is being held before the game.
A young mother enters with a pram, chatting on a mobile phone to a man. She tells him they are just in, and he can meet them whenever.
When she gets to the seat, her seat, the man is already there. He is with an older man, familiar looking, and happy. This older man peers into the pram to his granddaughter, and the group stand together in this spot talking about life, about their friends, about people they all know.
Sometimes they point around the stadium to illustrate their point, because people are known, and their seats are known; part of their identity, part of who they are.
They sit together for the game, each of the adults taking a turn with the child when it is upset, or hungry, and each reporting what was missed when they return.
“We had a corner, but they headed it over”
“I thought he might get booked for that”
The game ends, and they go back to their homes; they will return, to this ground, to this seat, forever. Eventually, the baby will come on her own, football having been passed down to her as a gift from her parents.
She will see the highs, the lows, the beauty and the brutal, and she will pass that on to her children, and they will come, in some twenty, thirty, forty years time, they will come, and they will do the same.
To the same seat, to the same spot, to the spot that used to belong to two teenage boys, that I was one of. It was a long time ago, and a long way away, and I am no longer that boy and that seat, E68, is no longer my seat.