As I mentioned the other day, the shoddy state of my football team has been weighing on my mind considerably of late. A cruel midweek defeat (caused by a last-minute goal) made me feel almost physically ill for a few hours and the subsequent depature of our manager has saddened me considerably over the past days. If we get relegated I will be thoroughly - to use a footballing word - gutted. Of course not as gutted as I frequently am when things go wrong in my career, and nowhere near as upset as I would be over a misfortune to my friends and family, or any of the usual things that make one unhappy (betrayal, failure, thought we had milk in the fridge to make tea but didn’t). I’m not an idiot. Nonetheless, the fate of eleven men, not known personally to me’, and with no direct bearing on my life, exerts a powerful pull over my emotions. Why?
Football fans are often stereotyped in ways which only some of them deserve. Personally I don’t consider myself rabidly tribalist, laddish, pumped up with testosterone, desperate to find something to care about in a pointless existence… I don’t chime with any of the reasons intellectuals find for the widespread obsession with football. I have a family, career, friends, interests. How I am capable of attaching so much importance to seemingly arbitrary events on a field in Bristol that I’m almost incapable of engaging with the rest of the world while they play themselves out?
I don’t really have a definitive answer, but since the question comes up a lot, here are a few possible ones:
-Supporting the team of the town where I was born is hard-wired into my consciousness. It’s not a matter of watching Man United on TV one day and saying ‘yep, I’ll have them’. I realise for someone not interested in the whole idea of football, this distinction isn’t of much concern, but it’s more a kind of instinctive part of my self-image than a lifestyle choice. That’s all.
-I was interested in football a long time before it became associated with ‘lads’ and screaming-at-foreigners-in-the-pub. When I grew up, in fact, in the 80s, football was in its darkest ever period and highly unfashionable in general society. So I’ve got as much distaste as anyone for the sort of mob mentality that breaks out during the World Cup. For me football is something you watch with your dad and your brother. Quite quietly.
-Well, you’ve got to be interested in something. I get annoyed when clever persons compare football unflatteringly with, say, opera. Things are as important as you make them. I mean, I’m also interested in books and pop music (as you may have gathered) and I’ll well aware that those pursuits engage the brain more than football; but not by as large a margin as you might think. Like any large-scale human activity, football teaches you a lot about humanity, and your relationship with the rest of it. (Camus said this rather better, I would add if I were pandering to the clever crowd.)
-To be honest, though, there’s no point in overanalysing. I find football exciting and even beautiful to watch. And if it’s worth immersing yourself in it at all, it’s worth really going for it. Everything is more fun if you take it seriously. People who let football run roughshod over their emotions do end up getting more out of it than people who dabble; and I think that applies to a lot more pursuits, too. Never mind half-measures. It doesn’t have to be football, but find something, however stupid, you can fill your brain with. That’s my advice.
As an argument, this hasn’t really gone anywhere. But you know. It’s the weekend. I hope you are using yours enjoyably, whether a ball is involved or not.