Watching, nay, indulging myself in the World Cup over the last month has reminded me just how damned emotional football – the great game that we alternately love and hate with equal relish – can be.
Commentators and critics alike have long compared it to a form of theatre. Alf Garnett called it the ‘working class ballet’ whilst, even more prosaically, George Orwell described football as something that is, “…bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.”
A bit over the top? Not really, at least I don’t think so. Indeed, in many ways, I think George has summed up the modern game perfectly.
Zoologist Desmond Morris went a step further, writing an acclaimed book called The Soccer Tribe in which he examined the game as a sociological force, attempting, as he did, to try and explain, to understand the fanaticism and mania that surrounds the game.
And oh for a sequel, or an updated version of that one – Morris penned The Soccer Tribe in 1981, long before the game switched from having a nice cup of tea on every matchday morning to, as it does now, snorting a quick line or two for breakfast before it comes out to play.
What would Morris, as intelligent and astute an observer of the human condition as there has ever been, make of the game today? Undoubtedly he has an opinion – he’s still with us after all – but he may feel, quite rightly, that football is one area of study that he’d probably prefer not to enter again. And who could blame him?
Because we’ve seen it all in Brazil; a micro Universe of the game squeezed into a 32 day long maelstrom of just about anything and everything you can expect to see in the game. To coin a phrase, it was net smacking, match winning, game changing, motivating, good passing, cool finishing, high scoring, fast flowing, goal scoring, cool fizzing……football.
And then there was the emotion. Especially the crying. Oh yes, most definitely the crying.
Tears are liquid manna from heaven for television producers all over the world. The sights and sounds of personal grief attract television cameras like bees to nectar, private heartbreak that immediately becomes public and copyrighted, images that are seen as essential to the drama of the game as the match itself.
One scene in particular comes to mind, one that was displayed for all the world to see during Brazil’s compelling capitulation in the semi-final against Germany. It showed a young woman, probably in her 20s, all dressed for the occasion and, you can imagine, ready for a post-match party. Yet the image we all saw was her slumped forward in her seat, busy tears smudging the carefully applied colours of the Brazilian flag that adorned her face; a look of utter and complete despair on her face.
A death in the family or defeat in a football match? I did wonder if I, or anyone, could ever have told the difference.
Yet the tears and despair have become addictive as has the need to publicly demonstrate the love and devotion that people have for their team and the ideals that they share with it. Because some of the players seem to have caught on to such an extent they are all doing it now.
Take David Luiz for example. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes woeful. But always emotional.
Those same cameras that were drawn to the faces in the crowd will invariably home in on him pre and post-match to capture the full gamut of emotions that can traverse his face in a matter of seconds. Indeed, you could almost map the history of the world by studying David Luiz’s facial expressions.
It’s all there. Joy, despair, grief, rage, calm, ecstasy, subdued and alarmed. Plus a few more. Luiz also does a good impression of the cat in Shrek.
It would also seem that he is a very spiritual man. Devout infact. Those long, lingering shots of Luiz publicly prostrating himself, knees bent and arms raised as he mouths supplicant prayers to his God, were a feature of both the post-match delight that followed the Chile game, as well as the post-match despair against Germany. And boy oh boy, does it get him seen on screens, in newspapers and online all over the world.
Money shots. And he knows it. And it must all have worked because he is now reckoned to be the highest paid footballer in the world; commercial interests included, with his earnings for 2014 reckoned to around $82 million. His estimated net worth is $245 million, that fortune coming from, including others, an endorsement deal with Cover Girl cosmetics, his own brand of vodka and a top selling perfume known as With Love From David.
I very much doubt that our very own Ryan Bennett’s agreement with Anglia Alloys last season was quite as lucrative. But here’s the thing Ryan, a few tears during the game, a post-match prayer perhaps and who knows where it could lead you?
But there you are. Character, personality, emotions – they sell. Messi may be by far the superior player to Luiz – but he is, personality wise, about as interesting as a paperclip.
Luiz is obscenely wealthy because someone, somewhere suddenly realised that emotions are big bucks and that any player who empathises with the fans is going to be a massive favourite.
“Look at me, look how much I love the shirt, the badge, the club, look how much I care. I’m one of you.”
But wait a minute. Can you blame them for tapping into the way we all feel about our clubs?
Has a football match ever made you cry? (and answers to that below if you please).
I’m guilty of that charge.
Play-off final 2002. Darren Carter has just slotted Birmingham’s winning penalty past Robert Green to seal their victory and promotion.
Watching at home it’s all too much for me. I blundered out of the room, through the front door to get outside and away from it all, and, right there, burst into tears, sobbing away noisily until my partner came to console me.
That was the last time I cried – and I’ve been through the whole range, just as we all have, of life experiences since. Serious illnesses, family deaths, you name it. But did I cry at or because of any of those?
Nope. But I once did because Norwich City lost a bloody game of football!
So yes, I can gently mock, anyone can, at the seemingly OTT reactions of football fans to their teams adversity.
Who can forget, after all, the sullen face Wolves fan, damp cheeked woe reflecting another playoff defeat and his famous banner that he displayed to the whole world as a result – a world that, for the most, laughed at him. Yet, post-Birmingham, I knew exactly how he felt – and not because I felt Norwich had ‘let me down’. In fact, it was all the harder for me to reconcile because they had given everything and we all knew it.
Remember, this is football. It’s a game, nothing more, nothing less. Hideously simple in fact. So why the hell do we get caught up in it so much? Why does it affect our lives in such a big way?
I remember our home game against Reading towards the end of the 2012/13 season. One of those ‘must win’ games that we are all so familiar with in and around Carra’ Rud. I was staying at the Holiday Inn on the night before the game and, as I bided my time in the bar pre-kick off I got talking to my fellow Norwich fans. The feelings were clear and unequivocally.
“I’m not looking forward to this.”
“Me neither. In fact, I’m dreading it.”
“I wish I was somewhere else.”
“I just want today to be over.”
“This is awful. Just awful.”
“I can’t stand it. Why do they put me through this?”
The friend who I went with took, without me realising, a photo of me during the game. My forehead is creased with worry, my features are pure hangdog and I’m biting my fingernails. I look like I’m sat on death row, not sat in the River End on a Saturday afternoon watching the football.
I’ll never forget the outburst of emotion (yes, even in the River End) on that afternoon when Elliott Bennett scored. It was as if someone had just corked an overactive bottle of Champagne, the release was extraordinary. One vaguely respectable looking man got up on his seat and bellowed, at the top of his voice the response, “Elliott Bennett, I bloody well love you.”
That person was me. And I did. We all did.
But wait a moment.
This is FOOTBALL. That’s all. And yet, oh bloody hell, and yet…
Brazil fans sharing a communal footballing doomsday in Belo Horizonte or those of Norwich jumping around in sheer unparalleled delight because they’ve scored a goal, that and the significance of it. We’re all the same. But did grown men hug each other in the Barclay back in the 60s whenever Norwich scored?
Hell, you didn’t even hug your dad on his Birthday back then. But we all get familiar with one another whenever we score a goal now.
Footballing joy and despair. And we can’t even escape the latter in the close season now. It’s all around us.
The club announced on Monday that Joe Royle, after barely six weeks at the club, had left in order to take a position at Everton.
Well, the rage and recrimination on one popular Norwich City fans site was remarkable.
I could just see the veins in peoples’ necks throbbing and their skin rapidly turning red as their blood boiled in response to the news.
According to some, the club was now a laughing stock. It was embarrassing. It had to be because the new set up wasn’t working. There’d been rows, fall outs, disagreements at the very highest level. A fiasco, a catastrophe, the early signs of a season of woe that will ultimately end in relegation.
Yet all that really happened is that a bloke who has just started working for us has been offered a job at his first footballing love and, all things considered, has decided to take it.
It happens. And if it happened anywhere else, no-one would say a word about it – mainly because most of us would be completely unaware that it had ever happened at all. But this is football. And it’s different.
Why do we get so caught up in it, why does it matter so much? And, for those of you who have been supporting the club for some considerable time now, a question:
Was it always like this?