FOOTBALL AND "LOVE"
Mickey Blue Eyes
"God is love......"
CATHOLIC CATECHISM, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 6, 2331.
"I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had smallpox."
WOODY ALLEN (1935 - ), American comic/writer/director.
"A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime."
W. H. AUDEN (1907-1973), American poet (born English).
Football and what? Let me explain.
Most of us Evertonians have said (goak), "I love Everton," at some point in our lives. Or at least thought it (goak again). In either case it is usually when we are very young and highly impressionable and, ah memory, full of naiveté. Later we are likely, but not certain, to get things into a more sensible perspective. If we don't, the hobby can morph into corrosive fanaticism or sourness in middle or old age. Still, if you haven't said or thought it, don't bother reading any further. This opinion isn't for you. You are probably as emotionless as a doll.
But what does the phrase really mean? We each have different motivations so if they lead to the same thing - Evertonian "success" - does the route matter? If you really mean it, in theory your emotional attachment is only as valid as anybody else who "loves" some other football club. Nobody has a monopoly on footy "love." However, there are snags. Some of them are not inconsequential.
Two hundred years ago the late great Alan Ball scored a famous winning Cup goal in the Street End against our lovable neighbours. Post match, he was quoted as saying something like, "When I got to my feet after scoring I looked at the crowd and have never seen so many people with so much affection on their faces." Well, I wouldn't know. I was far too busy leaping around like a maniac and hugging friends and complete strangers as though they were long lost family thought dead. No doubt, though, had I been facing the little footy genius I would have looked equally besotted. We've all done it. If that isn't love, what is it? True, a measure of irrationality is involved, certainly a spontaneous release of pent up tension at the very least. Such sweet pain in the best years. It was great while it lasted unmolested.........until gutless thuggery, physical and monetary, came along and almost destroyed everything we treasured. That's right, treasured, which is also a measure of affection. These days of course there is a lot less of it and a good deal more ugliness.
However, that game was a victory. Love is easy then. The real test comes when you have to trail home from an away match covered in the dismal miasma of a 5-0 thrashing. We've all done that too. Gawd knows the last fifteen footy years (and counting) have been difficult for our club, including previously-unthinkable (itself a delusion) relegation threats and financial instability. Add in the contemptible Premier League and its rickety-spiv fiscal framework and the difficulties increase by a factor of ten. Somehow, we have so far ridden out the worst of it. However, the incoming economic tsunami may change that for all football clubs, despite Deloitte's recent calculation that footy's annual growth rate has reached a trend-defying eight percent. Storm warnings have hung out long enough. Economic reality looms, as most reasonably informed fans have always said it would. Soon the hurricane will make landfall.
And that's one of the main elements in this subject. The crucial moment comes when emotion clashes with cold reality, the instant wishful thinking and illusions crash to the ground. For some it ends in tears, unable to bear the thought that not everything they assumed was right is right. Some people turn deeply cynical (in the modern meaning) or feel a sense of betrayal. Some end up hating where previously they loved, even try to drag others into their self-imposed misery. Thus, the famous thin dividing line. It would be easy to claim a strong, intelligent individual should always transcend such "weakness," but that is too mechanically logical for a human mind. People are made of fluid, not clunky gear systems. Hence obsessive fans who stalk and hate the original object of their affection. Gawd help the object if he/she doesn't measure up to misconceptions. The most obvious extreme example is Mark Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon. There are all kinds of peculiar variations below that ultimate insanity. Why some people wander into such a weird cul de sac is a technical matter for their DNA analyst or psychologist, not us mere mortals. We can no more solve it completely than we can the tragedy of drug, alcohol or tobacco addiction.
Another illustration. After the Cup derby match mentioned earlier I passed a bus stop on County Road. A tall, middle-aged liverpool fan stood at the head of the queue; he was decked out in a red and white top hat, a red tail coat, giant rosette, white trousers and red shoes and carried a red and white rattle (thus demonstrating analfield a la mode is anything but new). He was the only pinky in the queue and stood there miserably, eyes brimming with unshed tears, while a circle of crowing ten years old boys danced around him. It doesn't bear thinking what happened to him on the bus. Oh the humanity. But who showed more "love," the devastated pinky or the celebrating nippers? Nor can we modern Evertonians jeer too much if we wore a Felli wig and plastic blue nose at the Cup Final. Also, I know middle aged men who went home and cried after we lost that game, and others who wept at the thought of imminent relegation. And most of us have stood frozen to the marrow or soaked to the skin on open terraces, and for what?
So what is going on here?
Well, I don't think "love" has too much to do with it. At least, not the way I define that wonderful emotion. For instance I love my family and friends, but, as I have said before, football isn't worth one percent of one billionth of one percent of a single hair from their heads. I had felt thus for a long time but it finally set like stone after the football disasters of the 1980s. I can trace the moment precisely. It followed the Heysel Disaster of 1985. I had watched with some liverpool-supporting friends that terrible moment as it unfolded on TV, and then watched the match to the final whistle. Afterwards I was driving home along Allerton Road and the thought hit me like a train: I have just seen people killed and then stayed to watch a football match. If you didn't question your priorities at a time like that you never would. Then it was followed by the Bradford and Hillsborough Disasters. I have never really recovered from the affects of seeing distraught friends in torment, including one who was second through the gate at Sheffield. I don't think our city has. I don't think the game of football has. If football is to have any meaning at all I don't think we should ever forget.
No, I think we are mostly dealing with an addiction neurosis, not "love." At its worst it spills over into psychosis. Hence the hate that circulates in the game from time to time. Small wonder racists and thugs found an ideal hiding place in crowds on standing-only terraces. I haven't the slightest doubt those lowlife detritus would re-emerge in similar circumstances, and I have even less doubt they would hide behind a lie of "loving" their club. The reality is of course such mentalities at their worst don't love anything or anyone. They are incapable of it. For them, it translates into a sort of obsessive self-pity. You get the same kind of thing in the worst of patriotism and nationalism - but even the great English pacifist philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, "Love of England is very nearly the strongest emotion I possess," thus proving nobody is invulnerable to human contradiction. Of course his opinion mellowed later when he pointed out, "Patriots often talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country." Later still he had some very perceptive things to say on love. (Not surprising, really, given his reputation for womanising even into old age - one young lady described his pensionable, hands-on seduction technique as "like dried leaves fluttering up my skirt.") As with most things it doesn't do to entertain illusions for long. Reality may be uncomfortable but it is a prime necessity for sensible living.
One way or another virtually all footy fans are equally "guilty" of the incongruity. For example in a blog on the Chelsea Cup game I wrote, "I love the FA Cup," meaning the competition. Even a fine journalist like David Conn once referred - absurdly so, I thought - to "the soul of football." Then again, I am a practising atheist. See, sometimes it's difficult to escape the trap, though you have to or you could succumb to quasi-religious and tribalist superstition, vendetta even.
Then there's Sunday League football. Sometimes I walk along to nearby Jericho Lane to watch these games organised, played and refereed by men and lads in rain and shine, seemingly for nothing but the enjoyment......maybe also a chance to clear their lungs the morning after the night before. Some of the games are really good, some of the players too. Some of them have been doing it all their lives. How on Earth do you explain their dedication long after childhood despite the rise of on-field thuggery? And what of the disillusioned but admirable Manchester United fans who left their club behind and formed non-league FC United of Manchester, now moderately successful, thus proving - cliché time - you have nothing to fear but fear itself?
Eventually I settled over the years for treating the game as a healthy hobby and a chance to see some outstanding professional football athletes in action, and occasionally to get a sense of community when the crowd got in a spontaneous good mood. I think that's where most of us finally find ourselves, a place where we try to avoid throwing the emotion around too easily in the manner of American "lurv." I like to think I've found a reasonable balance, nothing more, though at one time I probably would have gone along with the old joke: What would you do if you found Alex Young in bed with your missus? Answer, tuck him in. Now that's love.........of sorts.......I think.
After all, one of our most famous city sons, John Lennon, suggested All You Need Is Love.......Oh how I wish.