Football is about rivalry and the bonding tribalism of being a supporter sits front and centre of the game’s appeal. But below the surface there are secondary fondnesses and they sometimes get lost under the over-stated importance of winning and losing.
It’s not a new topic; the smell of freshly cut grass, the lingering odour of burger vans and many, many of the other sensory associations with live football have already been lovingly described. Rightly so, too, because together they are the thread which binds one decade to another and which are immune from the external forces which continue to re-shape the sport.
Another entry into that list, then - the sound of an away goal being scored at the home end.
This is one of the few matchday experiences which is translated accurately by television. It might even be enhanced by it given that, by definition, to hear this from within the stadium and to be suitably removed from it is to also feel the concession of a goal.
So maybe this is something that we can all relate to?
The moment’s essence is in the delay - and that’s also why it’s end-specific. Away fans are nearly always situated at one end of the ground or the other, so when their team scores in front of them, their reaction is just a smaller, more localised version of that which greets a home goal.
But when their view is obstructed or when a piece of action takes place far enough away for it to be ever so slightly ambiguous and for it to take an extra split-second to comprehend, it creates this precious moment of silence before anyone can be heard to react.
It’s unique to the situation. Goals are scored at the end of attacking moves and most crowds respond as they sense opportunity and the cheer which greets a change of score is usually just an escalation of the building atmosphere - the fans don’t go from zero to ten in an instant, they rise to a crescendo as the move develops.
Conversely, during the build up to an away goal at the home end, stadiums seem to fall silent. There is no chanting and the urges of encouragement from down the other end are inaudible. There’s almost nothing but thick, quiet anxiety.
And when the goal arrives, the ground falls into suspended animation. Three-quarters of it sinks back into its seat and feels that punch of realisation and the remaining part, one hundred and twenty yards away, is frozen in giddy expectation. They don’t have the proper vantage point to see the ball actually cross the line, so they’re reliant on the tell-tale signs: the net rippling, defenders slumping, players peeling away to celebrate.
And then the cheer. It’s echoey and strange, as if it’s being piped into the ground through a sound filter. The bodies twitch in the distance and the entire block blurs into a jumbled mess of joy.
At the heart of this lies the reality that being a travelling fan is different and the rewards it carries are different. It’s a longer day, it requires something that most fans don’t have and, consequently, celebrating a goal in an away end always feels slightly different to how it does at home. It’s a sharper set of emotions; it’s definitely more exhilarating. You’re outnumbered, you’re in somebody else’s ground, and everybody around you is coiled-up just a little more tightly.
That’s maybe why watching away ends celebrate is such a spectacle. After the realisation has dawned and after those micro-seconds of uncertain silence have passed, one part of the ground explodes. It’s visually different, because isolated joviality in a sea of disaffection is quite a strange sight, but it’s also a more charged form of celebration. It’s more manic, more wild, and it always seems to mean more from the outside.
But it’s the silent prelude which is golden; it’s like the moment before a wave breaks and releases all of that stored energy.