A manifesto for football fans in 2019

Date published: Monday 31st December 2018 9:59

Our need as a species to mark the passing of time seems to be in our primal DNA. If you’re going to the trouble of hacking huge stones out of the ground to erect a stone circle to work as an astronomical clock, then you can see exactly how important it was to us even 4000 years ago. Then we invented a calendar, as it was much easier than the whole putting up of stones thing, and have lived by one version or another ever since. And we’re at one of the marker points today, as 18 gives way to 19.

As you get older, you worry about time the way you never did when young when there was always so much ahead of you. So much that you spent a lot of time wishing it away, wanting school to be over, wanting to grow up, wanting to be able to grow a beard, wanting to fall in love, wanting to stop being asked your age in pubs. But now as the sands of time fall through the hourglass of existence, and the hot breath of mortality is forever on our neck, it feels like a much more precious resource, one to treasure and not fritter away. The clock is ticking for all of us, each heartbeat one closer to our last.

So as we have perhaps the most significant date change of the year coming up, I think it’s worth pausing briefly to take stock of our situation as football fans and consider how we can live happier, more content lives in 2019 by being a little more mindful.

In an era when prescriptions for antidepressants are at an all-time high, when ever more people report being depressed, isolated and lonely, when the only thing that seems to unite us is an agreement that we are extremely divided, we can use football as a balm for all that is vexatious to the spirit. It can give us joy, cheer us up, bind us together, be awe-inspiring, entertain and take us out of ourselves. It can makes us feel a sense of belonging and give us self-identity. Or it can if we let go of all things which just drag us down and waste our valuable time.

Let’s embrace the good stuff while we can. As England fans, the World Cup surely taught us this. All those cynics with their downturned mouths telling us that we shouldn’t get our hopes up, that it was all destined to end in tears or that we’d only beaten rubbish teams, all of that was pointless denial of pleasure. And why do that? Those of us who only ever wanted to celebrate the good times however long they lasted were the winners. That penalty shoot-out against Columbia still glazes my eyes with tears of joy. Every single moment feels so good and is an effective antidepressant.

There’s a trend in football to tell people or yourself not to get too happy about something going well for fear of losing in the end, as though victory is all and everything else is nothing. You’ll see it regularly in our Mailbox. Such a wagging finger of destiny is a failure to understand that the joy is in the now of the journey, not in merely reaching the final destination. Or to put it simply – to be a winner, you don’t need to win.

We shouldn’t take pleasure in others’ pain, nor joy in their upset. The culture of turning to opposition fans to goad them when your team scores, rather than celebrate your side’s achievement, harms ourselves more than anyone else. It drums up negative emotion out of a moment of positivity and such cynicism has a psychic wash-out in the rest of life. We don’t get it for free. Dance with the devil and the devil will take you away.

For too long I looked to football for something to express inner hate, be it at clubs, managers or players. All it did was waste my valuable time feeling angry or dwelling on things I wished hadn’t happened. But I couldn’t shake it off when not watching football. It leaked out into the rest of life. Football didn’t release it, as I hoped it would, rather it manufactured more of it until it dominated any joy the game brought. I had to change. And changing made things better.

Hand in hand with this downer behaviour are the twisted faces of hate that shout abuse at players and officials for perceived biases, injustices or mistakes. I understand the need to release the build-up of tension and anger grown in everyday life, especially in times like these, but to unleash that angst on individuals at a game is wrong for us and them. Imagine if it was you being sworn at. Imagine how that would feel? You’re just trying to do your best, even if you get something wrong or don’t do something as well as you can sometimes, you’re still human. Empathy is important. We can release that emotion in other less specifically directed ways. A scream to the skies can do the job better than calling the referee or anyone else a c*nt, be it in a football ground or on Twitter. Being nice isn’t being weak.

Still, the infinite clock of time is forever ticking, so how much of it do we really want to spend worrying about relegation or promotion? Relegation doesn’t matter, promotion isn’t the be all and end all. Accept it all. Just existing is the big achievement. Just having a club in our life and in our local community is the thing to feel good about. A place me, you and friends can go to, can have in common and can mark our lives against. That’s where happiness and contentment lies. Everything else is secondary.

There’s a Buddhist notion that all pain comes from desire of and attachment to physical things. And while the Buddha might never have felt the need to acquire a first pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut album with turquoise lettering on the cover, there is much sense in his notion because life is more about experiences than just acquiring things. In football the continuous redesigning of football shirts which people are paid pennies to make but sold for hugely inflated prices is a big issue. Does ownership of this latest sponsor-plastered planet-destroying landfill really put us in a happier place? We used to love football before they were even created. Can’t we show our affinity to the club in a way which is less destructive, more creative or individual? We can. We should. And inculcating children into a notion that you have to buy something to show your support isn’t a positive thing.

Our love of a football club shouldn’t allow us to suspend our capacity for moral judgement in terms of ownership or sponsorship or anything else. Football doesn’t exist in a political or cultural vacuum. There’s no get out of jail free card we can play that turns wrong into right. We shouldn’t be afraid to use our support to effect change wherever and whenever we can.

Looking for the good in things in football and life brings so much more joy to you and those around you than always picking at things to criticise. That’s not an argument for having no critical faculty at all, but more for using it with care and perspective, rather than as a harsh default tool.

So enjoy every sandwich in 2019 and remember with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world and a beautiful game.

John Nicholson

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