The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer argues that Football is much more than a game.
England departed the World Cup last night after what the BBC described as the “heartache” of defeat. England fans shared in the disappointment which has afflicted the vast majority of sides departing this competition.
The BBC did not exaggerate. The emotions involved in supporting Football teams are sometimes raw and very real. These emotions emerge in the support of both our national and club sides. Genuine tears of both joy and anguish are shed every year as critical events determine the outcomes of crucial fixtures.
Some people do not get this. They look on from the side-lines; bemused, often murmuring “it’s only a game”.
Yet I think following the fortunes of a football team is so much more than simply playing a game. Supporting England over the last few weeks provided the opportunity to reach out to a sense of community and national identity. Very few activities offer similar opportunities. Sport in general and most definitely Football in particular offer safe access to a range of emotions we would never otherwise encounter in our lives. Football can literally provide a safe arena where we can experience the range of human emotions, both positive and negative, in a way we could not otherwise enjoy or endure.
One of the most thought provoking books I have ever read was Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our nature”. What he assembles in this book is a mass of archaeological, anthropological and historical records to show how violent Human Societies have been over the millennia of our existence as a species. In more ancient times we would, as tribes, clans or simply vassals of a feudal lord, have experienced more routinely the very real collective thrill of victory or trauma of defeat. The adrenaline high of victory achieved against real risk to life and limb can, nowadays, only be imagining by most of us. On the other hand we would shy away from the raw emotions accompanying defeat the grief of bereavement, mutilation or enslavement.
Happily most of us no longer live in societies where the risk from death, injury or imprisonment is a daily threat. Despite this I think there is something in our collective psyche which yearns for these emotional highs and lows. A safe window to these passions can be opened by Football. Sadly to fully realise the joys of victory we normally have to realise the disappointment of defeat. The joy of England winning their first ever World Cup Penalty Shoot-Out was undoubtedly heightened by our relief from the disappointments of previous tournaments.
The experience of most Football supporters, certainly West Ham Supporters, is that of experiencing both the joy of victory but the disappointment of defeat. The contract between these high and lows provide a relief from the hum drum routine greyness of our lives. They provide dramatic memories which stay with us for all our lives. Those who say it” only a game” just do not get it. They are the ones missing the unforgettable experience of unconditional collective joy. The grabbing and hugging of a stranger, both celebrating in the success of a West ham goal.
Despite the disappointment of eventual defeat our lives are enriched by the safe access to these emotions.
We can only hope that the upcoming season offers compensatory joy for West Ham supporters.