When I was nine, England went 2-0 up against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final but lost 3 – 2. I walked out of our living room, sat on the stairs and wept bitter tears all night. I could not believe we’d lost. It hurt like hell and I thought I’d never get over it. But a day later, I was already looking forward to the next game.
When your team loses a big final, or indeed any important game, it is clearly somewhat vexatious, though I have to say the degree of vexation seems to diminish with every year. Maybe it is the onrushing threat of mortality which helps put sport into perspective, or maybe you just become accustomed to dealing with disappointment.
The emotions you go through quickly veer from frustration, to annoyance, to disappointment, a brief flirt with anger and finally end, as you trudge out of the ground, as acceptance. There’s no point in feeling bad for long because there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. Might as well just get on with life. Someone has to lose a final, obviously, it is the very nature of the event.
It’s especially grim if you went into the game thinking you were probably going to win. The fact that reality has not matched your imaginings seems weird. How did it not happen the way you thought it would? But the fact is, it didn’t. You came second in the two-horse race and that’s the end of it – might as well have a drink and have laugh and indulge in a bit of gallows humour. What else are you going to do?
Well it turns out that what some do is send horrendous abuse on social media to a player for making a mistake. I know the traditional response to this is to call such people’s behaviour ‘predictable’ but that is to too easily dismiss them. If we’re ever going to strip out this clogged artery that runs through the body politic of football fandom and replace it with something less inflamed, we shouldn’t dismiss it as predictable, shrug and let it go once again. Rather, it needs facing down.
Loris Karius was on the receiving end of torrents of vile threats. Okay he made a mess of things but as many have already said, he’s still a human, still a man with feelings, and a man already tortured by his own performance. What sort of hollow soul would you have to be to want to make his suffering worse? Such people often justify their actions by claiming to be a passionate fan, as though this purifies the poison, as if this disinfects the evil. It doesn’t.
Karius has issued an apology. I can see why, but I’m not a fan of footballers apologising to fans. I do not want a footballer apologising to me for anything that they’ve done on the pitch. Why would you? These apologies are a sop to the emotionally hysterical and those who take it all far too seriously. We need to suck losing down and deal with it, not abuse players, or feel so entitled that we can only absolve them of their sins if they apologise and are contrite, like fans are priests issuing Hail Marys from a metaphysical confession box.
It is grotesque.
The game is as much about errors as it is about skill. We all take that on board when we buy football’s ticket. It is axiomatic to football’s compulsive quality. To be outraged that someone made a mistake is to be outraged about the game itself. In what game have no mistakes been made? This level of heightened emotion is all part of the infantilisation of football and of life in general.
How and why does football give some an excuse to lose their sense of humanity and compassion? I know saying ‘it’s only sodding football’ is a bit heretical to some, because it is such a powerful force in their lives, but even so, it really is only sodding football and you cannot excuse your bad behaviour as the act of a so-called passionate fan who just really cares for the club. Putting the #YNWA hashtag after your abuse does not justify anything.
In life and in football, you’ve got to learn how to lose, learn how to deal with setbacks, how to keep your head. You need to learn not to indulge in emotional incontinence in the manner of a child.
I’ll go further. Knowing how to lose is the mark of a decent person. The traditional football garbage about real winners being bad losers is utter nonsense. The two things are totally unrelated and are just used as an excuse for behaving terribly. The world of football is littered with people who were winners such as Bobby Robson, but who also behaved perfectly well in defeat. Being a tw*t is not compulsory.
I’ll tell you who knows how to lose: Jurgen Klopp. I’m sure you’ve seen this Twitter clip but if not do give it a look…
Jurgen Klopp at 6am this morning. What a man. 🔴 pic.twitter.com/lrm22OVzRr
— Oliver Bond (@Oliver__Bond) May 27, 2018
It’s a fun, decent way to handle a big defeat. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about the club. It doesn’t mean he isn’t a ‘real’ fan, it doesn’t mean that he’s not bothered by losing. What it does show is that he has it all in proper perspective and is happy to have sing-song and a laugh, as opposed to telling a footballer that you hope him and his children die of cancer. Who do you think is the better person?
Ever the amateur psychotherapist, to me it looks more like a process of transference: laying off your own self-loathing on someone else. A chance to uncork your own bottle of inadequacy.
To be unable for a moment to stop and put yourself in the player’s shoes is a total absence of empathy, and without empathy, we lose our humanity. So you’re losing your humanity over a goalkeeping error, are you? Really? And that’s why it is so offensive, why it is not acceptable. If you will lose hold of the reigns of your own decency over a goalkeeping error, what else are youprepared to do? How low can you go? You’re already quite a long way down to the road to amoral nihilism.
How about players stop apologising to fans? How about fans stop abusing players for making mistakes? How about we all just grow up and accept that there is no winning without losing?
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