When I was young I had absolutely no idea about the psychology of losing a football match. At the tender age 9, I knew only that I didn’t like to lose at British Bulldog. However I was soon to realise that I didn’t want my – now beloved – Manchester United to come anything but first…but as for the psychology involved, what was this witchcraft? That to me, as I would later discover, was a whole new, erm, ball game.
Later in my teens, it was cruelly hammered home to me in the horrendous climax of the 1973/74 season. So at age 16, as well as trying to cope with girls and what the hell went on in their heads, I was beginning to understand that how my team played was inexorably linked to my social life.
I then realised that there were going to be consequences if United lost a game. Little did I know that worse was to come; at certain times and during some seasons, much worse. Later in my adulthood it was to affect my manner and behaviour both at work and at home.
Even after all these years I still harbour a few particularly unpleasant recollections. I remember running out onto a main road (for some reason I thought it was OK to prove to car drivers that I was a football fanatic) to celebrate wildly when we equalised in the ’79 so-called ‘five-minute final’. Only to hear a short time later that Alan Sunderland had scored a third in the last minute. Gut-wrenching!
My three Gooner-supporting mates were brutal and relentless in the extraction of piss.
After the joy of the European Cup which I watched in grainy black-and-white, the two-legged horror of the 1968 Intercontinental Cup where Estudiantes quite literally hacked their way to ‘victory’ in La Plata (1-0) and again, more Samurai work was done in the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
Today roughly two-thirds of the Estudiantes players would have been sent off. In my eyes, however, the boys in red were Princes. I seem to recall their coach referring to Nobby Stiles as an assassin.
For me the very worst modern example was the City injury-time winner versus ‘Queens Park Raisins’ where around minute 85, I naively thought, ‘we are actually going to make this and we’re going to be champions again’…then that prick Barton stepped in…
And thus, the psychology of football for the die-hard fan can be incredibly callous because the game is such a dominant force in our lives, and for some, it can be obsessive (if you have come this far, that could mean you). Sufferers (me) can focus on little else (me again) leading up to the game (still me), during the game (yep, I’m still here) and also beyond the final whistle (yes, hellooooo!).
During the build up there is the inevitable, unavoidable media and social networking hyperbole. You are virtually obligated to deal with the seemingly never-ending stream of ‘banter’ from family, work colleagues and the annoyingly smug and well-primed and prepared circle of so-called mates – via texts, via voice calls, on Facebook, Twitter; then there are the up-front face-to-face verbal assaults.
Next, during the actual game there is anxiety and stress – at least there is the last 2 seasons – particularly when things don’t go as you would wish / hope / gamble on / pray for.
I have found in recent years that as the game progresses a few of the Sky and BT Sport commentators, Martin Tyler for example, used to drive me nuts with what I perceived to be their not-so-subtle digs at United.
To me they would seem to dredge–up stat after ancient stat time and time again and I wanted to virtually reach into my telly and chin them. Of course when United moved to dominate the game they would suddenly change tack and gush with praise usually claiming that it was only a matter of time before United took control. Cliche after cliche.
When the referee makes a contentious decision that directly influences the precious red objective, once again your manner and temper are put to severe test. Worse so if it negatively changes the course of the game, this must all be painstakingly endured, confronted, and dealt with.
In the final third of last season, we were floundering in sixth/seventh place. For the many hundreds of thousands of United fans around the world, particularly those below their mid-thirties who have only known success, but even for those of us who are somewhat older, we are having to begrudgingly and hastily adjust to how most fans of most teams have felt for most of their many previous season/s/s/s/s.
We have been in this God-awful position of having to ‘cheer on’ teams we might otherwise ignore – or worse – hate, because their results may mean that another team in 5th or 6th will drop precious points. We will almost certainly have found ourselves trying to ascertain whether it’s good that Liverpool lose a cup game, but at the risk of making them stronger in the league.
You ask yourself, do we want City to lose to a team in 5th or 6th place, or hope they win so we can then edge closer to a European spot. But how painful is it to ‘cheer on’ a powder blue shirt? It’s beyond excruciating.
It’s like choosing which friend your wife cheats on you with.
So, for fans that live like this, season after season after season, for those fans whose very identity seems entwined with their beloved team, they have to endure every one of these emotions and psychological kick-backs in the face of this seasons’ football.
Holding such close identification with your team seems to have somehow formed a significant element of self-identify. Your teams’ performance and the many associated rivalries often bring a kind of knock-on implication to your self-worth.
For over two decades, whilst our team was winning trophy after trophy, we were gifted numerous golden opportunities to inflict shame and hilarity on our opponents’ fans and for last and this year it has been abruptly curtailed in what seems like the cruellest way. But this is why so many other fans despise Manchester United – and their fans.
I see it as borne from so many, many years of deep-rooted bitterness and jealousy and the innate need these folk have to copy each others’ stupid jokes and memes and make them seem their own. The vast legions of ‘sheep-le’ out there, following each other like little lost lambs that have the desperate need to feel like they are affiliated with all the other like-minded drones, half-breeds and dolts.
I’ve actually never been one to gloat in success; in fact even during the treble-year I was quietly smug but not that vocal. Unfortunately for me, my ‘friends’ and work colleagues have been so much more vociferous than I care to mention. It’s been hell.
And so for 9 months a year, especially this year, our significant others’ might argue – with some justification – that our obsession with the game could limit development of other interests and obligations, even causing a negative impact to our relationships.
You can’t win, but you’ll keep trying.
All words by Dave Cleaver. You can also submit an article to Stretty News.