When I was growing up, I never understood how people could like football so much (for my American readers, I am referring to ‘soccer’ here). I grew up in northern England where football is basically a religion. The stadium is at the center of the city. Every other weekend the locals come out in their masses and eagerly walk the streets to watch the game. The outcome of the games genuinely affects the moral of the people. If the team wins, everyone is in a good mood for the week. If they lose, everyone mopes around analysing how this was possible. Either way, conversations are normally dominated by the previous or forthcoming football game.
I have friends that know literally everything about football. They spend their weekends watching multiple games a day. They invest a great deal of time to finding out the most esoteric facts and figures. Their forté is pub trivia nights when they suddenly become a walking encyclopaedia of sports knowledge. They know things like who scored England’s goal in the loss to Argentina in the World Cup in 1986 or which Sheffield Utd player received a red card before touching the ball in January 2007 (I googled them questions by the way).
I never understood this mentality as a kid. Why do people need to know all of this pointless information that serves no purpose? How can masses of people cheer and shout at their screens over a game they have no control over? Why is their mood controlled by an outcome of a game when they aren’t the ones kicking the ball?
As you may have guessed, I was more of a bookish kid. I found the people who intently followed sports foolish and I would deliberately eschew from cheering for sports teams. If I was good friends with Freud and we were having afternoon tea, I image he would deduce that I held these negative feelings because of a detachment and rejection I felt from my family and friends growing up. Or lets face it, he’d also probably say that I secretly wanted to kill my father and sleep with my mother.
As I grew older these opinions slowly dissipated. Nowadays I have gotten over my complex of shunning sports and can enjoy watching the odd game. Although I am still indifferent to results and still feel like an outsider at times.
I realised I was/am no different to sports fans. When I was in my teens I spent years of my life finding out every piece of information and trivia about my favourite movies. I spent ludicrous amounts of money going to concerts. Lately I am constantly going crazy and screaming at the TV when a fictional character I like on The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones dies. Why is this any different to going crazy over sports?
My emotions are being controlled over fictional characters on a screen. I have no control over the outcome of movies and books yet I still invest my energy and time into them. I realised I shouldn’t be judging other people for liking things I didn’t understand (wow, what an epiphany! I realised something that I should have known in the first place. Someone give me a pat on the back or round of applause?)
There is no difference between knowing who scored the winning goal in the 1978 world cup final to knowing what happened in Spiderman comic No.19, or how fast the Starship Enterprise goes. One is no ‘geekier’ than the other. However, I grew up in a place where the latter was considered a more geeky thing to know and often felt ostracised for being different. But why? You’re using the same part of your brain. Fulfilling the same need. You are just directing the same amount of enthusiasm towards a different thing.
I remember watching the England vs Italy game in the World Cup this year at a pub in my hometown. The pub was packed full of die hard England fans. Inspite of my apathy to the game, it was a very fulfilling experience being a part of a community of people who felt happy and sad (and lets face it, mainly angry when watching England play) together as one unit.
I remember when England scored their first goal to draw 1- 1 (they would eventually lose but no one in the pub knew that at this point) and the whole place erupted in elated noise. Everyone, myself included, started jumping and hugging each other. There was a synchronicity in our actions and thoughts that removed me from myself.
At this moment I realised the importance of sport in peoples lives. People want to feel a connection to something bigger than themselves. These social codes and rituals can be used to create an identity that transcends the individual. For everyone in that bar, those brief moments of watching mega rich people kicking a small ball around on some grass connected us. We weren’t alone. At that moment in time it didn’t matter who I was. It didn’t matter what my name was, where I was from, or what my job was. In that moment my thoughts became secondary.
Everyone has a thing that offers them a similar feeling of transcendence. Whether it is through sports, movies, religion, or stamp collecting. Nobodies thing is more or less valid than anybody else’s thing.