I am indebted to Yankee Gooner, one of the people I follow on Twitter, who reminded me of this little gem from Fever Pitch:
How could Nick Hornby suggest that back in the dim and distant anyone could possibly devote so much time and obsession to supporting a team that on the face of things they clearly hated?
It seems contrary to any logical behaviour and surely no one feels like this now, especially as there are so many choices of teams to watch on the TV, so many different forms of entertainment; if you think your team are rubbish, then either change your team, or your pastime. I suppose back then there wasn’t that much choice, live football didn’t happen on TV, so if you wanted to follow a team you were pretty much chained to the local club. If you were lucky in the Post Code lottery, you grew up close to Liverpool, or Arsenal, or Manchester United: unfortunate and you were left irrevocably chained to Oldham, Millwall or Portsmouth.
For on the face of things there is nothing rational about such behaviour, about hating so passionately the thing you are meant to love, and it beggars belief that anyone should behave like this nowadays in an era where quite frankly we have never had it so good (and I speak with some authority as I remember the three day week, the power cuts, the football specials and those pitches, shorts and haircuts – particularly the Baseball Ground and Charlie George for some reason). Perhaps however this masochistic impulse is deeply ingrained in the football fan, and looking at the responses on the various Arsenal Twitter feeds, and listening to some of the crowd reactions at the Emirates it would certainly seem to be alive and well in 2014. As far as I can tell, some sections of The Arsenal’s support are exactly like Fan 1: we have been top of the league most of the season, and they still think we are rubbish. How odd to be like that, and how agonisingly self-defeating, but the answer, I think, lies in his last line: to live in hope is all well and good I suppose, but it tends to have a terrible effect on your experience of the present, as almost by definition its suggestion that things must be better in the future also confirms that things ain’t great right now.
Especially so, of course, if your present existence isn’t all beer and skittles – and for so many that is the unfortunate situation. Few of us are true masters of our own destiny. Instead we are forced to work for others in jobs we do not enjoy, if we are lucky enough to have jobs at all. The daily grind eats into the soul, each repetitive task taking us further and further away from all that we thought we were promised in childhood, when everything seemed so rosy and full of possibility. Small wonder then that the fame and fortune as offered by a lottery win or X-Factor success looms so large in the hopeless dreams of the rank and file. And that is where the football club comes in, for each week it also offers an escape from reality and the illusion of success – but actually a much more tangible one. Each match is keenly anticipated and planned for, teams are picked, tactics debated. Those of a certain age believe they are the manager, younger ones the players. Briefly, the football fan owns the team, for his ticket or his TV subscription (items often dearly bought and involving sacrifice elsewhere) means he has invested in the club just as surely as the millionaire owner or the board of directors have done. All is set fair – let the good times roll! Momentarily we are invincible. The stadium is full of glamour, the latest top signing a beyond-human thoroughbred, the sense of belonging as the anthemic hymns belted out palpable. This is indeed the Promised Land, and giddy with anticipation the cares of our lives fade away, for we are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen.
Except most times they don’t of course. A bad decision, a moment of brilliance from the other team, an all too human error from our champion reminds us that actually everything is shit. We are, after all only mortal, our champions have feet of clay, and if work wasn’t bad enough already we know that on Monday every other fan in the world will be mocking us, buoyed and fed as they are by the sensationalist headlines that await every reverse, and extra-especially every failure to be outstanding from The Arsenal. It doesn’t matter that overall we are doing really rather well, that we are infinitely better off than every other club in the UK bar possibly two financially doped, but oh so beatable rivals; the fact remains that our dreams (however unrealistically) have been shattered. If you are lucky enough (and I can’t believe I am just writing this, because that is the weirdest definition of lucky you will ever see) to know that everything is terrible anyway, you will think something along the lines of “oh well, never mind, how foolish of me to think we might beat Barcelona or Bayern” and just get on with your real life: if however all of your hopes are pinned on the team, and if you were foolish enough to believe that one day that team would unload all good into your life, then of course you will be beyond angry, for your sense of betrayal will be absolute.
And so you resort to saying that they are rubbish, that they were last year, and that they will be next year too. If you are old-fashioned you will share this view with yourself and maybe a mate or two. If you are modern you will broadcast this betrayal of these fancy pants to the wide world you imagine will be listening on your various social platforms. For a moment you will hate your club and its players (especially the fancy ones that promised so much), because they have just reminded you of how much you hate yourself. But hatred is surprisingly close to love, and, as they say, hope springs eternal, and there is already the next game to look forward to….
Thanks to @foreverheady for today’s article.