I was a recent guest on the Life Goals podcast, on which football fans are invited to choose eight goals that mean something special to them or define moments of transition in their lives. You are also asked to select accompanying pieces of music for each goal. It’s a kind of sporting Desert Island Discs, presented by an ardent Spurs fan named Theo Delaney whose enthusiasm and generosity of character elevate the podcast into something special.
I’d never previously listened to Life Goals, but I understand it has a dedicated niche audience and I’ve since been delving into its archive to listen to fascinating conversations with notable sports writers such as Paul Hayward and Simon Kuper, political journalists such as Danny Finkelstein and Steve Richards, and celebrities such as Noel Gallagher and the TV presenter Kelly Cates.
Delaney takes his guests on a journey through their lives, and along the way he tries to discover how we first became interested in football and why we support the teams we do.
In his essay “Dear England”, published on the Players’ Tribune website in the run-up to last summer’s Euros, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, Gareth Southgate captured the essence – and indeed mystery – of fandom, perhaps as well as anyone I’ve read, when recalling his earliest experiences of watching the England national team. “You remember where you were watching England games. And who you were watching with. And who you were at the time.”
Delaney, like Southgate, understands that being a fan is about much more than sharing those moments of joy and disappointment that can unite not just friends and family but sometimes tens of thousands of strangers in a kind of collective rapture. Fandom is also about identity and belonging, about finding somewhere to belong. And it can help you understand better the person you are – or, at least, used to be. That is the trick and magic of the podcast. Never such innocence again, as Larkin wrote.
This article appears in the 06 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special