Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Is Football Important?

By Benjamin Bloom                         

A good deal of perspective is needed when asking this question, no is the answer most self respecting football fans would give and, given the worlds problems, it is the right answer. So why do so many of us invest so much of ourselves into it? How it makes us shout for joy, and for some, weep inconsolably, taking us on an emotional roller-coaster for which we dedicate our lives. I used to feel this way about football but I have had a recent 'awakening'. It happened during one eventful night, a moment many, if not all, have had during their lifetime, a moment that changes your life forever, some people have many of these eye opening experiences. I had one of these
very same experiences a little while before my football related one, it was after a night of taking some dubious looking hallucinogenic drugs with my partner Emma while going to a rave club. It was something about that night in London, after dancing to house music all night long with friends and having a good time that a profound thought entered my head. I was walking along the Thames while the sun was coming up when I had my moment of clarity, I'm absolutely sure I almost definitely, definitely hate 'house music', and I shall never listen to it again if I can help it. 

Despite the, not really life changing, ramifications of that exprience (I haven't been to a club since), it doesn't seem as salient as my football related experience that has brought a new enjoyment of football to me. It happened during Manchester Uniteds Champions League final 3-1 defeat to Barcelona at Wembley in 2011. The highs and, mostly, lows of that final left me dizzy, sick, heartbroken and, for a brief moment when Rooney made it 1-1, optimistic and elated. But it wasn't to be, Barcelona demolished a scarily average looking United team with an impressive attacking display that included some fine goals and passing moves. Not that I noticed the wonderful Football on show in what many called the greatest final in the Champions League era, I was too concerned with the subdued Valencia not conceding free-kicks by bundling Iniesta and co over with his impressive strength, I was wondering why Hernandez was playing and why I couldn't see the classy Berbatov anywhere, why Giggs wasn't tracking his man and mostly, with all the hope my little mortal heart could muster, I was secretly wishing Rooney could pull out some more magic.

It wasn't to be and the seeds of doubt had been sown, having first hand seen how the importance of football can grow in someone with my partner Emma. Over an eight year period we have become very comfortable bedfellows when it comes to our love of the game. Emma, being only casually knowledgeable of football before our union, is already a much cannier viewer than myself and much, much more vocal in her support (whether that be United or any other game), and will constantly barrack players for bad positioning, offside calls or if there is a man open who should receive the ball. It's refreshing having someone who can pick up the tactical as well as the aesthetics of the game, as it adds an exciting element to what was my otherwise waning interest in the game, which has only been revitalised since she took an interest all those years back. The problem with this is that I taught Emma everything I know, and yet, when you boil it down, my football education consists of nothing more than acting like a hapless (and by hapless I mean stupidly pathetic) dog, following the ball around keenly with my eyes in a daze as my master tosses it from one person to the next, passing it long, short, short again and then long over and over and over and over again, as my feeble mind, bedazzled by all the fancy flicks and pretty turns, is transfixed like a toddler who has just witnessed an adult forcibly take their nose with minimal effort and is now taunting them with it, and the only chance my asinine brain and my pitiful soul have at finding any semblance of joy, is if Emma puts me out of my misery and takes me to an actual game so they can let me out on the nice big green pitch at half time, where I can precede to chase around the ball as some youth team subs knock it around, intermittently catching it and then dumbly, not knowing what to do with it until it's kicked again and off I run, starting the same sorry cycle again and again until I go the way of old Yeller.

The seeds where sown none the less though, and once the game had finished (although we had both been head in hands for the last ten minutes), Emma looked at me, immense sadness etched across her face) and said 'that was brutal', and I couldn't agree more. When people dismiss football, they have no understanding of the pain and delight that can accompany just 90 minutes. I have personally experienced a multitude of things in my short life, but none comes close to the range of pure feelings that will eclipse the average football supporter during a match, and in such a small space of time. There's a peculiar mindset that happens after such a crushing blow, you begin to question the importance of football, and even why you bother if it is just going to make you feel this way. Some of our closest friends might say to us that we should have expected this as we had both watched pretty much every game Barca had played that season and the season before, we should have seen the storm coming and found cover. You can't blame sorry fools such as ourselves, optimism has a lot to answer for, or is it hope? Or did we carelessly let those subjective thoughts infect our expectations of what was more likely?

Letting our unreasonable, inane thoughts effect our judgement and rational reasoning is a problem that can befall us all, but not for Emma and I any more, not when it comes to football. A few weeks later I watched the full game again when the scars had just about healed, and without anything being on the line, just my enjoyment, I was pleasantly surprised. A very enjoyable game if passing football is your thing, and it was then that I realised that whether I watch football or not, it's all about how you deal with the pain. I told Emma this and she begrudgingly agreed. And would you know it, our brand new attitude was put under test the very next season. The last day of the Premier League calendar and everything is on the line, especially the title, Manchester United go to Sunderland with Manchester City hosting QPR, and we're watching it live. If City win, the title is theirs, but if they don't and we win, the title is United's. Rooney scores for United, there's some hope, but then City score and are now beating QPR and it's the same old story, the same lingering misery as before. But then, amazingly, QPR score one, and then another and it's the same optimism and elation as we felt against Barca. We wait anxiously as the clocks tick towards full time, but then we're hit with that now familiar heartache. City score, not just once, but twice to bring the reality crushing down. The title now belongs to City.

But it's not the same, I barely have time to register what has just happened but I feel different. I feel I have changed for the good, that the champions League final has altered me in some unknowable way. I still felt the same roller-coaster of emotion during the game, but when I turn to Emma (immense sadness again etched on her face), I realise everything is going to be OK and I utter the immortal words, ones that should be part of every football fans vocabulary.... 'there's always next season', and after I say that, a little reassuring smile comes across Emma's face and we decide to go outside to enjoy life.

And if I'm really lucky she might throw a ball for me.

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