Football has an unnatural hold on the lives of its devotees. As a fan, your emotional wellbeing is dependent upon events that are totally out of your control – the result of your team’s game. What’s more, these emotion-controlling events are of no real significance either.
When your team wins a game, you are happy. When your team wins a trophy you are elated. And it’s all a lie. You are happy but you have achieved nothing more than an affiliation to a group of men who have kicked a ball into the net more times than another group of men.
You might counter that being happy is not so bad. But most teams lose games too and when your team loses a game, it makes you sad. If it means relegation you might even fall into despair. For a die-hard fan, the despair might easily rival that felt at a family funeral. I don’t think a meaningless game should exercise such control over one’s mood and wellbeing.
Neither should a meaningless game have the power to inspire racism and violence. But it does. Monkey noises and Nazi salutes are, it seems, quite commonly seen and heard in some Eastern-European football stadiums. And the recent violence in Warsaw between Russian and Polish hooligans shows just to what extent football can rekindle latent bigotry and brutality.
Don’t think for a minute that we English are immune to football-inflected xenophobia, either. It wasn’t too long ago that black players were routinely abused from English terraces. And you only have to look at the newspapers when England play against Germany to see the curious power of football to stir up old enmity.
If this piece has been somewhat persuasive, it might seem that scrapping football altogether would be a good idea. After all, it would save supporters from embarking on a lifelong rollercoaster of emotions, which cannot be good for the nerves or the heart. It would save ordinary fans lots of money. And most importantly, it would rid the world of one more cause of intolerance and hatred.
One problem remains to be solved, however. If one were hypothetically to press the delete button and get rid of football and, by extension, football fandom, what on Earth would the millions upon millions of bored people occupy themselves with?