It is a fool who marries his or her happiness to the performance of a sports team. It is not logical to sit in a room, hundreds or thousands of miles away from a sports game and shout at moving images projected onto a screen. It is a waste of time to send advice and abuse through social media, in the vain hope that your opinion or plan will be considered, or even noticed, by anyone who not only agrees with you, but has the ability to act on it.
But we do it anyway.
(Now, before anyone accuses me of hypocrisy and points out that I am often up watching baseball at 2am, and that my mood at 7am generally depends on the final score, let me claim, in my defence, that the Detroit Tigers are not a sports team. They are an embarrassment…)
There are many reasons why we do it. It gives us a sense of belonging, of nationalism. It unites us as a group of supporters. It gives us something to believe in, to worship. It provides enjoyment and excitement. We can live out our dreams of greatness through the proxy of young, athletic, well-paid sportspersons with terrible hair and even worse acting skills (Vinnie Jones excepted).
Even me, an anti-patriotic loner with only a minimal interest in football as a spectator sport, I find myself sucked into the hype of international competitions. I find myself inexplicably supporting these bizarrely-coiffed young men, whose names I do not know and whose faces I have never seen. And so, tonight, on Alban Hefin, the longest day of the year, I settled back into my seat with friends in the pub to watch the England team take on the Who-the-vakians? in their final group game of the Euros.
Only, I think there was a misunderstanding somewhere, and the English assumed that because it was the longest day of the year, the match would be longer, too. At least, this is the only logical reason I can provide for why they spent the first 90 minutes warming up…
Still, Midsummer has long been a time of celebration and worship in this fair isle, and tonight was no exception. I threw a coin into the stream on the way home from work as a nod to the old traditions of leaving gifts for the faerie folk (seeing as human sacrifice is no longer permitted). We are privileged to be able to worship who and how we like (as long as it doesn’t involve human sacrifice), here in England, and I reckon that for many people an evening in the pub watching the footy is something akin to attending mass.
Only, the thing about worship is that you really need something to believe in, something inspirational. Sadly, the England performance tonight was in no way inspiring, and provided absolutely nothing to believe in. It would have taken faith far greater than my own to hold the conviction that we are, as a country, anything other than completely and utterly bloody useless when it comes to international football. I think I would find it easier to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. Hell, real or not, they’d probably still give us a run for our money on the pitch.
And to make things worse, our folkloric neighbours were having an absolute whale of a time thrashing the Russians. I imagine this to be somewhat similar to sitting there bored to tears in mass one Sunday morning, while the Second Coming happens in the church next door that has a congregation of three, if you count the vicar’s cat.
Anyway, we obediently sat there, in the pub, chatting amongst ourselves and with others. No more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the supporters, and of the household of England. And we were united. First in hope, then in despair, and finally in anger (although we became a little bit less united with the charming, and slightly marinated, gentleman in front of the big screen shouting ‘Stamp on his head!’).
But that’s the thing about believing in a sports team. It doesn’t matter how much evidence they produce to the contrary, the true faithful will always be there. And they always know that this year will be our year.
So while we may not believe in or celebrate faeries and horned gods anymore, we have replaced them with footballers, and the wobbly-faced, watery-eyed Roy Bloody Hodgson.
This year will not be our year. But still we offer our sacrifices, make our pilgrimages, and chant our songs of praise. And we gather together in prayer, and it doesn’t make the blindest bloody bit of difference. And even though we qualified for the next round, we still feel let down, betrayed, and abandoned, and we look across with Baleful eyes at our victorious Welsh brothers. And we express our pain, finish our drinks, and same time again next week, right lads?
As for the match itself, well, I could go on to describe it. I can think of plenty of descriptive words to use, too. But as they are words you couldn’t say in church, and probably shouldn’t even say in the pub, I won’t. Besides, if I wasn’t depressed enough already, Mike “Tyre Fire” Pelfrey is just beginning to heat up and is about to condemn Detroit Tigers fans everywhere to another evening of eternal punishment where homeruns rain down like brimstone, so I need to save most of those words for the rest of tonight’s baseball game.
So if you can only watch the highlights from one of the games, make it the Welsh one. It’s not like you can even re-live the England match anyway, because there was no life in it to start with.
And although it was Wales giving it the beans tonight, it was England that produced the damp fart.