Football is a wonderful game

 

Some people don’t ‘get’ football. It seems to me that some of those people take a weird perverse pleasure in 'not getting it' too, frequently taking the opportunity to tell the world, to make it clear that they aren’t a sheep and have a mind of their own. They will often post negative comments on social media while the World Cup or other matches are on mainstream television, moaning that the BBC or ITV are wasting valuable airtime covering football that could be used to broadcast more cooking and property shows, as well as more of those programmes where someone spends a week to make forty pence by selling a Victorian thimble they bought at a car boot sale for £85.  In complaining, the haters stubbornly behave as if those are the only stations available, conveniently forgetting that they have another several hundred TV channels to choose from and even more options by visiting streaming sites. They just want to let everyone know, in case their previous numerous posts saying the same thing were missed, that they don’t like football. You see comments about ‘overpaid nancies’ kicking a bag of air around a field and that their chosen sport (whatever it may be) is far more worthy, or skilful, or manly (or womanly).

I have always found this behaviour a little odd. It is the nature of life that you will like some things and dislike others. And it is inevitable that some things that you don't like will be popular. Personally I have no time for rap music, vegetables or Celebrity Love Island. But if I turn on the TV to find Caroline Flack listening to Dr Dre and cuddling a courgette I don't get angry. I feel no overwhelming compulsion to grab the keyboard and start typing furiously, like an anrgy chimp having a wank. I simply turn over. I suppose football is an easy target. Footballers are well paid and of course some of them do behave badly, and the blanket coverage it is given in the media coupled with the sensationalistic reporting styles used in England means that any wrongdoing is magnified a great deal more than it would be should something similar occur within another sport. There are plenty of footballers that routinely do a lot of good, by regularly visiting children in hospitals and schools, and supporting local community projects and charities. But this type of activity gets little coverage because a good news story in our country doesn’t receive a fraction of the coverage that a scandal would generate. Nonetheless, the haters like to use the negative to fuel their dislike and, if that is what floats their boat, then I guess that is fine, each to their own and all that.

But I would suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, they are missing out on the unbelievable rush, the excitement and the sheer jubilation that football can provide. This is ultimately why we watch football, waiting for that magic moment that will live with you forever. This isn’t a frequent feeling. To truly reap the benefit you have to put the hours in. You must suffer all the losses, the disappointments and the failures, over many years. But you do this knowing that, one day in the future, things will momentarily be fantastic and that high makes all the pain worthwhile.

So I am at the pub with my son and a friend to watch the World Cup last sixteen match; England facing Columbia with a place in the quarter finals at stake. Watching the match and within a two hour period we experience every emotion possible. We start with hope and expectation at a good initial performance, moving to frustration with the spoiling tactics of the opposition and the failure of some England players to play to their potential. Then joy at the award of the penalty and the manic celebration that followed its (eventual) successful conversion. This is followed by increasing concern and worry about a diminishing performance, the failure to consolidate the lead, ultimately leading to the absolute despair of conceding a last minute equaliser. Then, frustration and helplessness as the thirty minutes of extra time tick by without any improvement and finally having to endure the hell that is the dreaded penalty shootout. It is nip and tuck and fingernails are chewed to the quick when, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, Eric Dier, has a penalty to send England through.

 

And then the pub has erupted. I am in the middle of a cacophony of noise, I am soaked in beer and I am hugging and dancing with my lad, my friend and complete strangers, as the pub, in the time it takes a penalty to hit the net, has transformed into a cauldron of frantic celebration. The deafening roar of ‘It’s coming home’ fills my ears and we shout ourselves hoarse as we add to the din. For a brief time everyone loves each other, a crowd of strangers united by nothing other than the shirt we wear and a love of the game.

 

I am convinced that nothing else produces this kind of togetherness and euphoria. Absolutely nothing. You can behave like a lunatic with no inhibitions and nobody cares. You certainly experience similar feelings supporting your own team on a Saturday, but for me nothing matches the hit of intense ecstasy experienced when your country does well. This may be because it happens so infrequently and you might only get to enjoy it a handful of times during a lifetime, but when you do, by God it is powerful.

So you haters – you carry on hating if it makes you happy. And I will carry on putting up with the disappointment and pain year after year while continuing to support, because when nights like last night come around it’s hard to imagine a better feeling. We drop our guard, we dare to dream and we revel in that glorious moment when we start to genuinely believe that it’s coming home.

AG 04/07/2018

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