We’ve all heard commentator cries of the “onion bag”, but the intrinsic link between football and onions goes a lot further than the surface-level metaphor.
The smell caused when fried onions are being repeatedly flung against a commercial griddle is an unavoidable and quintessential part of the matchday experience. Whether it emanates from temporary burger vans, decade-old smokers, or preprepared souvlaki toppings, the aroma permeates through the air in the magical couple of hours before kick-off.
The fragrance is an inexorable component of approaching a ground on matchday. The intense anticipation of a home game proverbially in the air, emulsifying with the actually airborne smell of the sweet, sulphuric vegetable.
Everyone experiences “The Walk” to their ground of choice. In the financially disparate world of the pyramid system, the trundling pace of a matchday crowd is one of the only constants. Every fan has their ritual, and the emotions of meandering through your favourite haunts has become symbiotic with the vinegary onion haze in the air.
Nothing defines the scent’s importance to “The Walk” than when you turn that final corner and everyone around you suddenly becomes a football fan. Societal norms cease to exist, roads are blocked, every person is united, all cladded in home colours, and moving in the same direction.
There’s a tangible barrier between the normal world and the match-going populous, always enforced by the whiff of onion sugars getting exposed to heat. When the first hit of the euphoric chemical reaction reaches your nostrils, the parameters and problems of the real-world simply fade away. It’s game time.
This simple unity is what attracts so many to the beautiful game. A team sport that at its base level can be enjoyed with just one ball (or even a scrunched-up piece of paper or a littered coke can) and any number of people from varying socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds. Suitably onion-shaped, a football can have the power to unify cultures and breakdown self-imposed borders – much like how the cheap, accessible vegetable transcends through multiple cuisines with its all-pleasing sumptuousness.
You can’t always have it the way you want it. Sometimes, especially in recent history, kick off times are increasingly impractical. You may be in a rush and you might not have had time to do your pre-match rituals. But the onions will be there for you. If you’re starving and rocking up to the ground five minutes before kick-off, there will always be somewhere shovelling onions into a bun for your convenience.
Always in touching distance of the ground, the sweet and savoury aroma will guide you to your scran like the North Star. This practicality, and straight up deliciousness, has provided income and business to many local entrepreneurs who without the foot traffic of gamedays – and of course onions – may not have their longstanding enterprises.
The onion is infinite. It’s a defining smell for decades of football fans before us, and will be for many millennia after us. The increasingly cold and finance-driven world of football will never be able to take the warming umami of a fried onion away from us.
It’s the scent of holding your parent’s hand and walking to your first ever game, it’s the taste of a derby day victory. Whenever you smell the delectable vegetable and in whatever setting you are in, you can be transported, even for a second, to matchday.