I went to a football match last night. Went to the pub first, as my eyes, brain, liver and rectum are currently reminding me. Today I resemble a worn seaside entertainer, knowing his best years are far behind him and ticking off the days on the calendar before he sets the pier ablaze, fills his pockets with pebbles and strides out to sea.
In the pub I had a heated conversation with a good friend of mine about tactics. Four-four-two and the merits of the deep-lying playmaker, you might imagine. Not so; our topic was tactical voting, and whether such a thing has any worth in a modern democracy. It doesn’t of course, but his assertion that I’m a simpleton for believing as much provoked the most invigorating conversation I’ve had in ages. Our friends who tried to intervene to cool things down entirely missed the point that we were both hugely enjoying it.
I mention this because virtually everyone else around us was discussing football. Football, football, football. It takes up many people’s every waking thought, as a substitute for actual existence. People whose daily activities are so tedious that the fortnightly trek to the stadium is a highlight on a par with Madonna falling off stage at the Brits and impaling herself on a rogue scaffolding pole, which must have been what happened last night given the clamorous media coverage this morning.
You wonder, therefore, why they seem to fucking hate it so much.
From the start of the match last night, they were bleating like a flock of English sheep casting envious glances over the Welsh border at their more lovingly attended kin. Only a goal in the opening minute could have tempered their misery at what unfolded before them, and that’s only because they were a minute late to their seats.
Every slightly misplaced pass in a football match nowadays is met with a derisive howl of anger, as though the player had done it purposely to wind everyone up. A defender sets up a goalscoring chance that doesn’t come off but then doesn’t perform the full Usain to get back in position, and is therefore so traitorous he makes Mata Hari look like that suffragette who got mown down by the King’s horse in black and white. A shot takes a deflection and beats the goalkeeper and someone must be blamed; not the keeper, not the person it deflected off, but the nine other players who didn’t prevent the shot from happening in the first place by charging around the park after the ball like St Luke’s Under-9s.
I once went to a game where our team were winning 3-1 and a man behind, upon the missing of a chance to go 4-1 up, shouted “Oh come on! It’s not good enough!” No you utter cretin, it’s the definition of good enough. It’s summed up nicely if you’re lucky enough to be watching a match on TV that’s nil-nil at half time. You can hear people booing. It astounds me every time.
People pay a lot of money to watch a football match and they feel it gives them the right to do two things. Firstly, moan and moan and moan from seconds after kick off that exactly what they want to happen isn’t happening in exactly the way they want it. Secondly, to make the experience a sickening misery for those of us who understand that what’s taking place in front of us is simply people kicking a ball around.
Football fans, I’m coming to realise, are among the lowest forms of humanity imaginable. Thanks to fans joyfully proclaiming their racism on trains either side of the Channel to fans espousing the virtues of gas chambers as they pass through a Jewish quarter of London, the image of the average football supporter has recently taken a beating of the type only Michael McIntyre deserves. And as an attendee at one of the supposedly more ‘cultured’ stadia in England I can confirm its a reputation a great many fans justify in their every action. You go on telling yourself there’s nothing wrong with yelling the word ‘Yiddo’, that it’s just a bit of fun. It’s really not.
Presumably to the immense joy of most of the people around me last night, our team were soundly beaten. Each goal for the opposition was greeted with screams of “Yeah that’s it, go on, fuck it up again, like you always do”. The player who last week was hailed as a match winner was derided for his comedic touch in front of goal, setting himself up gracelessly for newspaper headlines involving cows and banjos to the delight of the people who pay something like 50 quid a match to harass those around them with their pitiful anguish.
It is sport, and it’s meant to be entertainment. Nothing is riding on this. There will be another match soon, and another season soon after. Your life is miserable enough without making this supposedly fun experience about as enjoyable as an Ally McBeal marathon. Coming to the football to piss and whine like a little boy not getting his way is like buying yourself a huge box of doughnuts as a treat and proceeding to shit on every one, eating it, then complaining they don’t taste right.
I want them to win, but when they don’t I’m adult enough to understand they were at least trying to. It’s not very plausible that they actually want to lose. When they win it’s great fun, and when they lose you move on, hoping next time will work out. Both teams can’t win, that’s not how this works.
Twenty-one years I’ve been watching my team, and for the first time last night I wondered if I might not have had enough of it. I’m one of those idiots who starts the silly songs people sing in a football stadium, a full-throated bellow often enough to get hundreds to sing along to a bastardisation of, almost inevitably, Sloop John B. When I don’t, I look around to see people standing there grim-faced, quiet but for the muttering and occasional yell of torment, simultaneously moaning at the lack of atmosphere without doing a bloody thing about it themselves. At nil-nil, nobody’s enjoying it. What’s all this actually for?
My tactical voting chum recommended I take a break from it, and maybe he’s got a point. Maybe I’ll go and watch rugby for a bit instead.
Pass me those pebbles, will you?