I'm football crazy, I'm football mad. And the football it has robbed me of the wee bit of sense I had.
It's not the actual watching of a football match every day for six weeks that has driven me insane, although it should have. I started on the 31st January with Chelsea vsManchester City and I have been bored out of my tiny mind every single daysince with Tottenham vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Stoke... Everton vs Leicester,for fuck's sake! I even watched the 1982 World Cup final in the hope that Icould enjoy footsie nostalgically. But no. I have tried. Really hard. I havefailed. Even harder. The only time that I can say that I honestly enjoyedfootball was when I went to a match with Phat Paul and Dylan and they actuallytalked to me about football. They explained it to me. I started to pick a fewthings up, understand it a bit more. What has driven me mad more than anything is that football fans just don't want to talk about football. Paul and Dylan to one side, nearly every footsie fan I've spoken to just doesn't want to talk about the very thing that they seem to live for.
I've got footsie loving friends who find my new interest creepy. I've spoken to complete strangers in pubs, barmen and cab drivers, who were all wearing football memorabilia, and none would engage in the simplest of footsie banter. I even talked to some men watching footsie in a hotel bar but they blanked me. In fact, they even asked me to keep the noise down when I started shouting support at the TV. I thought you were supposed to do that. It was like I was too late to talk sport. I had my chance when I was a boy to like football and I turned my back on it. I can't just decide at the age of 46 to want to be a part of it. Thank you for your interest but football just isn't taking on any new fans at the moment.
All my life, I thought that I didn't want football. How wrong I was. It was always football that didn't want me.
Six weeks. Six whole weeks and football just hasn't taken me under it's wing. Has this been worth it? Yes, I've raised nearly £1,700 for charity but two years ago I raised over £2,500 by getting drunk and falling asleep. More people accepted me doing that than spending a huge amount of time devoted to football. Plus I wrote to so many teams to see if they could help. Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Spurs, QPR... Did I get a reply? Not one. Then, just a few days ago, Brentford FC got in contact.
Brentford Football Club, currently riding high in the Championship League, invited me to their club. This was amazing. I would be going to a proper professional football ground on my LAST DAY of my Comic Relief challenge. A pretty good way to round it all off. But... Then it got better. I would be given a tour of the ground itself, I would be part of a training session on the pitch, I would meet the team players AND I would be offered ice cream and jelly at half time because on the 14th March 2015... I became a child mascot.
You must have seen it before. Right at the start of the match, the team players walk out. Each of these manly athletes hand in hand with a small boy who is beaming with pride because he was chosen by that player to be the team's child mascot. And now it was my turn. I guess it's just every middle aged man's dream, really. You grow up watching child mascots on TV and you think to yourself "One day...". But you never really imagine it happening. Putting on that kit, feeling the legendary turf under your boots and grabbing the hand of a man who definitely doesn't want to hold your hand.
And that's where I found myself that day. Wearing a slightly too big for me Brentford FC costume and having people who actually work in football talk to me and welcome me into their world. As a child. Of course, when it came to actually kicking a ball around, none of the other child mascots would play with me. Children can be horrible and mean to 46 year old men in shorts, which is, of course, a good thing. So, Amber, a player from Brentford Women's team kicked the ball around with me. She was really nice. I kept expecting her to laugh at me being a child mascot but she never did. In fact, no one did. Not Amber, not the other child mascots and not the thousands of footsie fans there. And while kicking that ball around with Amber, it finally dawned on me: they all assume I'm dying.
As I stood outside the dressing room waiting for the players to come out in full costume, I got excited. The match was about to start and I would walk out onto the pitch as the child mascot of Stuart Dallas, Brentford's winger/mid-fielding ace, and I'd be in front of thousands. As we walked together towards Cardiff City's players, Stuart said I had to shake the opposing team players' hands. "They'll probably think you're in the team", he joked.
"God", I said. "That's what you say to all the kids, isn't it?"
I shook Cardiff City's hand, posed for photos on the pitch and heard the roar of the crowd. Amazing. A brilliant, brilliant way to end it all. I took my seat for the match and felt proud that a nice amount of money had been raised but prouder still that I was now a Junior Bee. It only took 46 years but I was now a child mascot.
Brentford lost 2-1. I didn't say I was a very good child mascot.
Six weeks of watching football matches and, on the last day, I was part of it. I was. WAS. But I think it's all over. It is now. Saturday night was a come down. Travelling from a gig late at night. Alone. I think I just imagined the end of six weeks to be more celebratory. I feel like I really reached out to footsie and, as good as the day with Brentford had been, I still felt that it could have reached out me more. All those teams I wrote to... They didn't want me. The real football fans I spoke to didn't want me either. Even my fellow child mascots wouldn't kick a ball around with me. I gave football six weeks and, in the end, nothing really changed. Then, about 11:30 at night, my phone beeped. I had an update on Twitter. It was this...
I am accepted. Sniff...
If you haven't donated to my Comic Relief campaign then please give what you can here: http://my.rednoseday.com/sponsor/michaellegge#_=_ And please, can we have a massive round of applause for Neal Peters, Christian Talbot and everyone at Brentford FC who were so kind in giving up their time and allowing this daft thing to happen. Especially Neal. Now, please enjoy these photos.