“There’s no room for sentiment in the game.”
That statement has become one of the buzz phrases in football over the last few years, one that is usually accompanied by sage looks and deep sighs as both the maker of the statement and his or her audience acknowledge same as some sort of universal truth. They are acknowledging and mutually agreeing that, whilst football is many things, one of the things that it most definitely doesn’t have time and space for is sentiment (ie) a thought, view or attitude towards something that is based primarily upon emotion rather than reason.
It is only when you take this definition of the word into deeper consideration that you realise that, this widely perceived truth is, in reality, complete and utter nonsense and so far removed from reality that it probably resides in a parallel Universe somewhere.
Think about it. Football and sentiment. The two go together hand in glove, they are inseparable. To suggest that there is no room nor time for sentiment in football, no space for those emotions of the heart to rule the logic of the mind is, quite frankly, preposterous.
The very act of supporting a football team is evidence of sentiment in itself. None of us have to like the game, follow it or have any interest in it at all; much less follow the fortunes of a team – even less so with the fervour and devoted loyalty that many of us have committed, over many years, to our club, Norwich City. Yet we do. We exercise a choice, one that we make, freely and with our hearts.
No-one makes us love the game or the Canaries, yet, in exercising that free will, we have chosen to support the team, to invest time and money in that passion as well as every conceivable emotion that the human mind can conjure up – ecstasy, despair, joy, frustration and sheer, red misted rage – and all of those can come about in just 90 minutes at Carrow Road on a Saturday afternoon.
And tears? Oh yes. In the past decade or so, I’ve lost close friends and family, gone through a very serious illness, witnessed the birth of new arrivals into my family and friends circle and got married – hugely significant events in anyone’s life and memorable for all sorts of reasons. And we’ve all been there, we all know the feelings that such events bring out in and for us. Life changing ones.
Yet did any of them make me shed tears? No. Not like the moments immediately after Darren Carter slotted home that decisive penalty for Birmingham City in Cardiff, the deciding and final moment of the 2002 Play Off Final. That made me cry like a baby. Irrational? Yes. An over the top reaction? Probably. Overkill? I can’t argue with you. Sentiment in football? Most definitely.
To react in such a way at the end of what was, after all, ‘just a game of football’ could be seen as bordering on the ridiculous; a grown man crying because of what has just happened in a football match, get over yourself. Grow a pair infact.
Yet it’s not just me that can be driven to distraction in such an overwhelming way by the game and the club that we all love. When you look back at the ups and downs that the Canaries have experienced over the last decade or so and ask a fan, any Norwich fan, how they have felt about them, how they reacted, then the answers will all, pretty much, contain the same words and feelings. They’re sick. Gutted. Proud. Emotional. Furious. Else full of anger. Pride. Despair. Those and many more, all of those in, remember, a game where there is, as we are all told, “no room for sentiment”.
No room for sentiment in football? What utter tosh, the game is all about sentiment, sentiment is football’s lifeblood. Without it, the game would fade and die – or, at the very least, be a shadow of what it is and can be for countless millions of people.
If there was no sentiment in the game, no-one would ever support Norwich City. A lot of people do so because they have an emotional attachment to Norfolk and Norwich itself, the very reason I became a fan of the Canaries – the sense of ownership, loyalty and an attachment to my home county and city, of it being, even now, my home and the place where I feel I belong. Others will feel the same way.
You don’t become a Canary on a whim, it’s a life choice, a move you take because it feels right. And, for those same reasons, you can’t just ‘drop’ Norwich and support someone else, become an Arsenal or Manchester United fan overnight and banish Norwich to the same bin you leave all the other things you have discarded in life. It’s impossible. Can’t be done. You’re in it for life. There’s no logic to it, no sense and no rhyme or reason. It just is.
And yet we are told, time and time again, that “there is no room for sentiment in football”.
Do you still agree that there isn’t?
If football was easy, if supporting a team was, or could be, relatively stress-free and was something we all wanted to enjoy for the very great majority of the time, wouldn’t we all be supporting those other clubs? If you wanted success and glory, trophies and big name players and only have to muse over the big names that were going to arrive at your club – rather than worry about the ones who might be leaving – wouldn’t you just buy a Manchester United shirt, stick ‘Rooney’ on the back and be done with it?
That is, after all, what your head would tell you. Take the easy option son. Support the big club, the corporate giant. Trophies and success guaranteed, plus that added bonus of you being able to reflect in that glory and have some of it for yourself. Massage that ego!
And yet, so often in life, when we hear the call, it is the heart that answers. And we don’t take that easy route. We take the hard one. We support Norwich City, even though we know there will be a far greater proportion of anguish, frustration and sheer annoyance than there will ever be joy and happiness. We know that. Yet we still take that option.
“No room for sentiment in football”?
Consider the very real possibility (and just that at the time of writing) that both Grant Holt and John Ruddy may, in the very near future, be leaving Norwich City for pastures new. In the case of both players, we have already the case for the defence, the argument that we will try to use to convince ourselves that it really is the right thing to happen for the club, the player and that we – having rationalised the situation – really believe that.
For Holt we tell ourselves that he’s 32. That his best years are behind him. That he struggled last season for form and, maybe, fitness. That we’ve had the best of him and now, with him approaching the end of his career, it might be best, all things considered, for him to take the move, to ride off into a Carrow Road sunset and never be seen in the yellow and green again. Besides, we add, he’ll be nearer his family.
As for Ruddy? Well we reason, come on… its Chelsea! A chance for John to play for one of the biggest clubs in England, to be a part of a Champions League campaign. To win things. And, in all probability, to double his wages. After all, he has a family to think of – if he moves he can set them and himself up for life (though quite how he, or anyone, couldn’t do just that on what he is currently earning at Norwich is beyond me) and achieve all manner of things in the game that he might not even come close to achieving at Norwich. Could you, taking all that into consideration, blame him for wanting to go? No, not at all. “Would you?” ”I know I would”. We’ve all been there; all had that conversation with someone. It’s sensible, logical, clear cut and inarguable. It’s the head talking.
But, despite all that, I don’t care. I didn’t want either of them to leave Norwich City. I wanted them to stay at the club for next season and be a very big part of the progress that we are all hoping we can achieve. I don’t care one little bit about all the reasons you, I, anyone, can cite about why they should go. I wanted them both to stay here and, now that Holty has left I am, in footballing parlance, gutted. And that’s my heart talking. Where football is concerned, it doesn’t just rule my head, it owns it. Lock, stock and three smoking barrels.
Yet there is “no room for sentiment in football”?
I can’t see how there can’t not be sentiment in football. Or, at least, if there wasn’t, how it could ever be fun again. Because it wouldn’t. The game would die without it.
Think of some of the great moments in the history of the game. The mass and joyful invasion of the pitch by Parka-clad boys as Hereford knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup in 1972. The scenes, post-match, after Sunderland had beaten Leeds in the 1973 FA Cup Final – Jimmy Montgomery embraced by a tearful Bob Stokoe. The reaction of Marco Tardelli after his goal for Italy in the 1982 World Cup final – surely one of the iconic goal celebrations and reactions in the entire history of the game? Or of David Pleat, clad in his best dancing shoes, cavorting across the pitch in abandoned delight following Luton Town’s dramatic escape from relegation in 1983 after they had beaten Manchester City.
The list goes on and on, through the years and ages, twin moments – joy and delight for some, despair for others. Footballing nature, red, blue, white, yellow and green in tooth and claw. You can’t hide on a football pitch. And, bringing things up to date, the reaction of Chris Goreham and Neil Adams on BBC Radio Norfolk, following Simeon Jackson’s last second winner against Derby County – ecstasy unleashed by two broadcasting professionals who were, and are, when the push comes to the shove, fans – just like the rest of us. And how we shared it – watching that goal go in now, listening to that commentary – it sends shivers up my spine still, even today.
Football’s critics knock the game because of its perceived lack of any cerebral quality. Footballers are renowned for being, in general, thick as two short planks whilst we fans are either as stupid ourselves for loving the game, else thugs and hooligans. More fool the critics I say.
Football is a release, a joy, a theatre of, and for, the masses. It is enjoyed around the world, regularly entertaining a congregation of billions. And we are all, wherever we are and whoever we support, united by one common factor. The sheer, raw, mighty emotions that the game provokes in all of us – good ones and bad, yet all emotions that leave us desperate for more. Illogical and irrational yes – and bloody marvellous with it. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world. This one or any other for that matter.
Yet people say there is “no room for sentiment in the game”!
I think I might just disagree with that.