Football: why is it so important?
Seems like an odd question for an ardent, passionate supporter to ask but it is worth considering.
You only have to take my reaction to the dramatic events of the last day of the last Premier League season.
After my beloved Manchester United let an eight point lead slip in the run-in for the Premier League title, I spent most of the final day almost willing Manchester City to stuff QPR, just so I wouldn’t have the inevitable despair that comes from dealing with that most fickle emotion: hope.
Unfortunately for me, QPR put up the fight of their lives in a bid to stave off relegation and my hopes rose and rose and rose.
Of course, I knew City would win the title as soon as pundits and ‘experts’ started saying that they “couldn’t see City scoring”, which of course means that a goal was imminent.
City’s late show was celebrated around the country as a triumphant day for change and the victory of unpredictability over tedium. Not in my house it wasn’t.
Strange, hollow, numb feeling
For the next few days I almost felt like I was living outside myself.
A strange, hollow, numb feeling existed no matter what I did. It was like a constant Radiohead concert in my soul.
Even now, I can’t bear the thought of watching Sergio Aguero’s late winner on popular video-sharing websites. Even now I wake up in the middle of the night screaming profanities at Joey Barton and Steven Pienaar for their part in denying United the title.
But why is it like that? After all, I am an apparently intelligent human being. Cynics will say I am not due to my choice of club, but I am a reasonably smart guy.
I have just graduated from university and the grim job market for people of my age should be the primary concern. Football, after all, is just a game.
Only it isn’t, because here I am worrying about potential summer signings and fixture lists. Hell, I’m even worrying about the potential summer signings of OTHER clubs.
Back to the future
Go back in time to the 1930’s and footage shows a more friendly, almost apathetic attitude to football games.
Crowds would flock to watch their working-class heroes and then would get on with their daily lives. Football tribalism and hooliganism didn’t seem to be a factor. Why is that? When did that change?
My theory is that the Second World War meant that people no longer had a common enemy to work together with, so we decided to hate the clubs in order of geographic proximity.
Instead of hating the Germans, people of my footballing persuasion were told to hate Liverpool. I’ve never met a bad person from Liverpool and they seem like a delightful bunch. But I’m meant to hate them, and I’m not allowed to ask why.
Fast forward from those pre-World War Two days to now and it is a different story.
Instead of supporting our heroes from the terraces, demand and pricing of tickets means that most of us are forced to follow our teams from home, in doing so lining the pockets of players who rarely have a single shred of empathy and sympathy for the lives of us mere mortals.
But we don’t care, we keep on worshipping the millionaires.
I’m not saying that football is a silly game played by twenty rich men kicking a ball around a field for 90 minutes.
Power to divide and destroy
Of course, it actually is, but it means so much more to us. You only have to see what myself, my brother and my father go through on a Saturday (mostly Sunday, thanks Sky) afternoon to know how much football means to me.
Our collective grumpiness is affectionately called the ‘Manopause’ by the female members of our family and for two hours we are left alone to wallow in our own self-pity, moaning about the offside call, the missed penalty, and why I couldn’t like Rugby instead.
But then I snap out of it. Next weekend is on the horizon and I have sleep to lose over that. Isn’t that great?
The other day, my train broke down and there was a long delay as I stood next to a man in an Arsenal shirt. We soon embarked on a great conversation about football, Arsenal’s lack of trophies and Bebe.
We didn’t really, I made that all up, but what I mean is that football gives us the opportunity to get to know strangers. It gives us something to talk about during a pretty bleak, depressing time.
A look at the recent racism scandals in the Premier League and crowd problems abroad confirm that football has a lot to be ashamed of, but the power to unify thousands of people under one banner is incredibly effective.
Look at the recent European Championships, where Real Madrid and Barcelona fans, so often enemies, were stood together singing as their Spain team took glory against Italy.
The new Premier League season is just a few weeks away. Two months ago, I didn’t want to see another football for years, now I can’t wait for the punishment, fear and ecstasy to resume.
Football is a beautiful game which has ugly results. But I say bring it on. I'll regret saying that.
By Doug Elder – Follow me on Twitter @DouglasElder2
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