Non-followers of football will look at the record £1 billion spent in the recently concluded English football summer transfer window and go,”Where the heck did all this money come from?” They would then take one step further and think, “What are all these ‘clubs’ anyway?” Finally, they would look at the millions of beer-toting, song-singing fans of the various aforementioned clubs and “Why do so many people support this silly soccer thing?”
This is a question I have asked myself many times. Why do I spend 2 hours every Saturday (or Sunday) night glued to my television when there are so many better things I could do? Why do I care more about the fortunes 20-something year-olds thousands of miles away than my exam results?
It has always been my personal belief that mere words cannot do justice to what sporting fandom is all about. That fiery passion must be experienced, it cannot be understood. Nevertheless, I will try to synthesise, into words, my pseudo-obsession for close to the past decade.
The love for the game
The unenlightened see 22 hairy men chasing after a ball, we see “a defence-splitting 60 yard cross-field ball” or “an inch-perfect cross”. In essence, football is a game. But it’s a wonderful, beautiful game.Football is a dynamic game that is for the most part, extremely exciting and entertaining to watch. When you spend hours and hours a week poring over how many passes Santi Cazorla completed in a match, or how many interceptions Francis Coquelin has made, you know that the game means something to you. There’s something very graceful and at the same time majestic about the way certain footballers play. They never fail to impress us. From the greatest intellectuals to those living the simplest of lives, anyone can appreciate the game of football.
The need for a cause
How did a group of munition workers from Woolwich playing football together become one of the largest sporting enterprises the world over?
It’s because of fans.There will eventually come a time when every football fan (99.9%) will decide on a team they support. From Manchester City right at the top of the Barclays Premier League to Esh Winning at the bottom of Division 2 of the Northern League, every club has its die-hard fans.
It is at this point where we transition from objective bystanders to supremely biased supporters. To be fair, there are only so many times you can analyse match tactics, substitutions, every team and every kick of the ball. Supporting a team provides us a cause to rally behind, an identity to root for. I used to think it could be considered a tertiary social group. That goes to show how connected we are to the club we support.
It can apply to national teams too. There is a rumour that Mexico’s crime rate goes down when the national team is playing. Whether this is true or not, it shows that no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, we’re all united in this common cause. And it’s a great feeling. We can meet a fellow fan we’ve never seen before but give him the biggest hug we’ve ever given anyone when our team scores a goal. That’s how much this cause means to us.
The human spirit
Football, and sport in general, is so widely loved because it epitomises the human spirit. It is indeed hard to place a finger on it, but there is a certain stirring of the soul when we see the joy that so many sportsmen embody when they are doing what they love, or when we see great fortitude displaced in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. I dare say it’s infectious, even though were so so far away. When someone plays on despite this,
we know how much it means to him. Jonas Gutierrez of Newcastle, a “rival” club, inspired me greatly when he refused to give up on football even after getting testicular cancer. We know how much football means to them, and that means something to us. Above the rivalry and competition, what binds us together is our humanity. It’s in these occasional moments of beauty that we find the greatest meaning in sport, and football. Ridiculously enough, I have been brought to tears a number of times whilst watching football.
But the torch of the human spirit is not just carried by the players. It’s carried by the fans too. Though we are polarised by the different clubs we support, we are united by our love for football. It’s great to see fans who know that following football is about fun, and who never lose sight of this objective. It’s great to see fans doing this:
A means of escape
We all live in a world which is becoming increasingly competitive. The hustle-and-bustle of daily life can always get us down. But even on that most stressful of weeks, where it seems like everything is against us, for 2 hours, sitting on the couch, it’s almost as if all our worries go away. The joy of victory or the pain of defeat will surely distract us from all our troubles. Football is a tried-and-tested means of escape from whatever life may throw at us.
We’re all fans to varying degrees. For some, it’s a hobby, a means of relaxation. For others, it’s an obsession. But what unites us all is that watching 22 men (mustn’t forget the sweeper keepers) gives us incomparable pleasure.