No one writes letters any more, do they? I mean, it’s for the best really. Letter-writing was rubbish. You had to find some decent paper, and an envelope that was the right size, and some stamps. You had to do your best handwriting (who even has handwriting any more?). You had to lick the disgusting envelope, like some sort of animal. You had to walk to the postbox (Postbox? Walking? ALRIGHT CALM DOWN GRANDAD). Basically, when email came along it rescued every last one of us from what was a living hell. But despite it all, I maintain a glimmer of fondness for the humble letter, and I’ll tell you why.
As a kid, I made an incredible discovery: if I wrote to football clubs, they’d actually write back to me. And not just “thanks for getting in touch, now have a nice life”. Oh no. They’d send me stuff. Free stuff. For absolutely no reason. And if I played up the fact that I was young and impressionable and really, really loved their club like no other, they’d send me even better stuff.
It started off with genuine sincerity. I wrote to my local club, St Johnstone, who I bloody adored (and, let’s face it, I still do). I told them my favourite players were Paul Wright and Jim Weir, and that was pretty much all I said. In hindsight, I have no idea why I did that, but I just did, OK? What’s important to focus on here is the chain of events it kicked off. You see, St Johnstone wrote back to me and enclosed signed photos of my heroes. I was over the moon. So my next thought was only natural… “what else can I get?”
So I started writing to a few other Scottish clubs. Mostly the results were fairly underwhelming. A signed photo here. A fixture list there. But this was fun. I liked writing, I liked football, and I liked waiting to see what I’d get back. I turned my attention to England. Plymouth Argyle sent me a poster. Charlton Athletic sent me a sheet of autographs. And Manchester City sent me their catalogue, which I poured over as if it was a work of great literature. I studied their kits, their training gear, their bedroom tat.
Things started to escalate. This was becoming my job. At my peak, I had a production line going. Friends got involved. I had itemised lists of clubs and their addresses. Packages were starting to turn up every day, and as my letters became more honed, the packages got bigger. I was getting parcel-loads from Benfica, from Marseille, from Bayern Munich, all of them seduced by my mighty childhood pen.
The freebies were corrupting me, and the levels of brown-nosery in my letters grew worse and worse. “I’ve supported you all my life! I love you! Send me things! I need things! Things are my favourite!”. Autographs, photos, posters, catalogues – my parents’ letterbox was getting a better workout than Santa’s.
Looking back, I can’t help but be impressed by the fact that virtually every club I contacted took the time to send me something. There were actual people all over Europe, working in the offices of these clubs, who took some time out of their working days to bung stuff in a jiffy bag and post it to me. Sure, none of it was expensive, but this was often stuff that they’d expect their real fans to spend money on, yet here they were sending it to me for free, just because I’d asked them to.
Would the football clubs of today do the same thing? For some reason it seems unlikely, but maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe I should try starting it all up again, just to see what happens. In these days of the Champions League and BT Sport and Paddy Power and VAR and Jeff Stelling, would clubs at the top end still take a little time to send a signed poster to a kid in another country? I’m up for finding out. Let’s bust out the quills and parchment and do this thing.