This isn’t an easy post to write. This past weekend, my team’s chances of winning the league suffered a major blow. Arsenal may be “the greatest team the world has ever seen”, but they’re not looking set to win this year.
Yet for all the disappointment and frustration of being a football fan, I’ve learned much from my experiences. The lessons are metaphors and examples of humanity. Football is more than just a game.
Community is everything.
To be a football fan is to be a member of a community. We have our own lingo – names for teams we don’t like and nicknames for players. We celebrate together when times are good. And we mourn together in the face of a loss. But the community goes far deeper than just a love of the team. We care for each other as well.
I am a participant on one particular Arsenal site. Twice, a close family member of a regular commenter has died. The comments that followed were filled with support and encouragement. A few times there have been births in the family of a supporter. Hearty and genuine congratulations were offered. We are a community of human beings. And human beings look out for each other.
Injustice unites people.
All sorts of people comprise the support of football clubs. As such, we disagree a lot. We have differences of opinion on the way the club is run, how the players are doing, and what players should be brought in at the transfer window. This often results in heated discussions on blogs and forums.
But those differences fade in the face of injustice. When a referee fails to give a penalty – or gives an undeserved one to the other side – we unite in criticism. When we feel the media is unfairly commenting on the team or one of our players, we unite in opposition.
Injustice and hardship aren’t fun. We often wish they would never happen. They do though. And they make us stronger. They bring us together.
The support of others makes all the difference.
One-nil down at home, ten minutes to play. Nothing seems to click. Passes go astray, and shots blaze over the crossbar. By all accounts, the game seems over. But then the crowd raises the level.
In unison, they sing anthems of support and belief. Boosted by the twelfth man, the players push forward.
Free kick. Oooooo, what a strike. One-one.
A ball flashed across goal. A header. Get in there you beauty. Two-one. We win.
When all seems lost, the support of others can give you the belief you need. They can be the hope you can’t see yourself. They can be the difference.
The opposition looks certain to score. Only the keeper stands in the way – a lone soldier in the path of the coming onslaught. But then the hero arrives. Sprinting from the other end of the pitch, the defender makes the tackle. The chance is gone. The crowd roars with approval.
We surge forward, attacking with numbers. Quick exchanges dart between players. Mesmerizing. Sweeping to the flank, a pass is misplaced. Although a sprint would keep it in play, the player only musters a light jog – staring idly as the ball goes out of play. The chance is gone. The crowd groans with frustration.
Nothing frustrates fans more than a lack of effort. For effort shows commitment. Commitment shows respect. A player who is having a bad game can erase much criticism by giving his best.
To be sure, skill and ability and knowledge are important. But in the heat of a game, nothing can be done to improve those. When the going is difficult, choosing to give everything we’ve got is the best we can do.
Play relieves stress.
Somewhere between Mombasa and Nairobi, our train broke down. Since the train was operated by Kenya Railways, we had no idea how long it would be before we continued. It would have been easy to get worked up about it.
But a few of my friends didn’t. Instead, they tied up a few plastic bags and started a game of football. Boredom gave way to fun. Stress gave way to laughter.
Sometimes, in the middle of a hard situation, the best thing is to take a break and play. Take a walk. Bike. Play cards with friends. The difficulty won’t disappear, but you’ll be better able to deal with it.
The heights make it all worth it.
A year ago I was watching Arsenal play Barcelona in the Champions League – a cup of all the top teams in Europe. When Arsenal scored the opening goal the bar erupted with joy and excitement.
Sadly, we went on to suffer a big defeat. But I didn’t forget that high. Somehow moments such as those make it worth dealing with the bad times.
Life is like that too. It’s filled with lots of downs. Loved ones die, people hurt us, and plans fail. Yet, there are moments of love. There are moments of joy. Those moments make it all worth it.
I’ll get over the disappointment of this weekend. I’m already looking forward to the next game. Life moves on. So does football.
Who cares where it’s played? I made this photo somewhere between Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya.