For a decade, Nick Hay* lived the life of a football casual, travelling the Netherlands to watch his team – and getting involved in a fair few scraps along the way. In this article, Nick explains how he combined his life as a casual with his career.
An experienced office worker might write with a typing speed of 150 keystrokes per minute. Now, imagine doing the same with two broken fingers. You wouldn’t achieve more than 30 per minute.
So there I sat in my office, wearing a navy blue Hugo Boss suit, suffering from severe pain.
See, you wouldn’t easily be able to say to your boss: “I’m going to the hospital with my two broken fingers, since yesterday evening I went out pounding at a football game. You’ve probably read about it in the newspapers.” The fact that my double life as a football hooligan wasn’t without risk was made very clear to me that Thursday morning, about 30 times a minute, give or take.
Once, at the 50th birthday party of my former father-in-law, I had to leave suddenly and abruptly. My friends stood at the door, and their car was ready to leave. Our opponents had been seen in a large mob downtown. Before I closed the door behind me, I quickly grasped my wife’s uncle’s favourite umbrella. It could come in handy. I didn’t arrive home that night; instead, I slept at the local police station on a grubby mattress and a plastic pillow. I still distinctly remember how air puffed out of a small hole in that pillow each time I turned my head on it.
When I came back home, I found pieces of paper with telephone numbers on them everywhere. They were torn out of the telephone book and contained numbers of local police stations and hospitals. After I got arrested, I hadn’t sent any word to my family. While I was getting frustrated that night because of some air puffing out of my pillow, they were in a panic at home and trying to mobilise the whole city. Unsurprisingly, two weeks later, my relationship with my wife would come to an end.
For a decade, I balanced the two extremes in my life with special care. Hardly anyone could have known anything about my double life. My football friends knew about my social life outside of hooliganism, but my colleagues and most of the people around me didn’t have a clue about the dark side of things. I now believe that having a secret only made it more exciting.
It must have been around 2009, near the end of my active career as a casual. Nothing can make a football season more sensational than a draw for the domestic cup. The average idiot at a random football club looks at the fixtures at the start of the season, and immediately books some high-profile match against one of the big teams. Nobody has to hide that from their family and colleagues. Cup matches are what make things interesting. They show up out of the blue and you can’t do more than just deal with them. You haven’t got any free days left and you’ve already made plans for work and family. Now that’s when the two lives – normal and hooligan – cross each other.
Wednesday evening, cup football night. The game starts at seven. This is a complete disaster for every hooligan with a wife, kids, job, or all. You should take at least the afternoon off and you have to be able to face your boss and wife the next day. That makes for a serious element of risk.
So, that morning, I rushed through my work, emails and water-cooler chatter to leave the office around lunch time with some shit excuse. It was time to unleash the dark side again.
Sometimes you just have one of those days in which everything goes wrong, and this horrible Wednesday happened to be one of them. Our organisation was piss poor and we ended up on the lower-right side of the stand, pinned against the players’ tunnel. Before our eyes, a substantial group of burly men came smashing their way towards us. After an extremely tough fight, I found myself out on the safety of the pitch with a giant cut on my leg and two broken fingers, again.
The next morning I stumbled, suppressing the pain, on the shag pile rug of my department’s office. It was like nothing had ever happened. The guy from accounts mentioned the riots from the night before in the staff kitchen, referring to them as a total disgrace. At the same time I could feel my fancy trousers sticking constantly to the fresh wound on the back of my right thigh. And yet, I couldn’t have cared less. My pride had been beaten up, and that requires time to heal.
Still, it was exactly that feeling of pride which was my main motivation, and the reason I was willing to risk it all. Most people get by with a good job, a nice car or a decent salary, but I identified more with the other side of my double life: hooliganism and ego. Risking it all was more than worth it, just to feel that natural rush.
Eventually, my life as a football hooligan cost me a great job, because the General Intelligence and Security Service marked me as “a threat to national security.” Of course, I found that to be something of an exaggeration, but I did spend most of my money on my hobby and that cost me my holidays, general days off, and a large part of my total income. If I had never got into hooliganism, I would probably have finished my studies five years earlier, and I would have a dog, a house and a lovely wife now. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel a single moment of doubt about that Wednesday afternoon, when I excused myself from the office with a shit excuse, and went off to live my other life.
* Nick Hay is pseudonym. His real name is known by VICE Sports.