Failure still feels like failure…whatever the Banter Era

Date published: Thursday 1st March 2018 7:31

This has been a good week for Banter Era twitter threads, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. One in particular – covering Doncaster Rovers’ disastrous freefall out of the Football League under the ownership of an arsonist in 1998 – has gained traction. It’s a fantastic read if you’re unfamiliar with the story. Check it out now.

As the bookends of that wonderful thread make clear, the complaints of Arsenal fans following their 3-0 League Cup thumping at Manchester City’s hands on Sunday fall deaf on Donny ears. They are the wealthy idiot complaining their diamond shoes are too tight while you sit barefoot in the street; to fans of Portsmouth, Coventry or Charlton, the Gunners’ cries must feel like the footballing equivalent of first-world problems.

Yet the humiliation of Gary Neville’s savaging on Sunday will have hurt Arsenal fans just the same, regardless of the fact that it was taking place in a cup final. In fact, a cup final is the very worst place for such an embarrassment to play out. Clearly, it is better to be humiliated on a grand stage than to live in poverty, but that humiliation is still real, and its huge visibility only serves to amplify the glow from those ruddied cheeks.

It’s all a matter of expectation. The sting of failing your degree at Oxford is as acute as the pain of failing one at Glyndwr University; it is possible to have sympathy for both parties regardless of the privilege one of those people almost certainly enjoys. Failure still feels like failure.

Yes, it is undoubtedly irrational to get upset about your team losing a cup final while other clubs fight for their very existence, but the entire fan experience has nothing to do with logic and reason. It is practically mandatory at this point to link to a clip of Jerry Seinfeld’s famous ‘cheering for laundry’ routine, which sums up the point of this paragraph much more efficiently and amusingly than I ever could, so here you go…

But the reason we keep going with it is that sport has the rare capacity to be a vessel for our hopes and dreams: it stands above fiction, celebrity culture and yes, even professional wrestlin,g as the undoubted primo unfiltered real-life source of vicarious enjoyment. The whole point of it, the reason we love it, is because we feel the triumphs and the agonies of the 11 strangers who take to the pitch in our name. It would be strange if Manchester City fans hadn’t celebrated their win on Sunday; why expect Arsenal fans not to feel and express the reverse?

You can look at it one of two ways. Saying that Arsenal (or Liverpool, or Manchester United, or Chelsea or whoever) have it lucky compared with Blackpool is either missing the wider point that worrying about any football team’s fortunes is a hugely first-world thing to do; or it’s a failure to recognise that football’s distractions are important precisely because they are trivial.

Catching up with a friend at the weekend, she expressed some genuine irritation that her signature will be “too fancy” when she takes on her married name later this year. This is a person who has ongoing physical and mental health problems, recently lost her job (thankfully she has found another) and has faced both racist and sexist abuse throughout her life.

But nobody, least of all her, wants to talk about things like that with old friends at a party. We need those kinds of trivial concerns in our lives to make everything else seem manageable too, and to stop every conversation from being an emotionally draining soul-searching slog.

When everything else in life goes south, football is still there, ticking along and providing a hugely necessary distraction that we can treat as real and personal and important. And the magic is that it really works: if we convince ourselves and treat it as though it is all of those things, it becomes so.

But most importantly – and if you take nothing else away from this piece, I really hope it’s this, because I think it’s important – it’s only actually funny to laugh at rival fans if they’re taking it really, really seriously. If that isn’t a warning to be careful what you wish for, I don’t know what is.

Steven Chicken

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