General Footy Writing: Being a fan keeps us young forever

By Michael Mueller
I wish I could remember from where I read this particular snippet of information, but a survey of British football fans a few years ago revealed that the loyalty they show to their clubs– albeit tempered by periods of extreme desperation and agony – far exceeded the loyalty and perseverance they displayed in their marriages. I find this fascinating. I mean, the fact that the Fremantle Dockers have any fans at all is surely proof enough of the validity of the statement, but what intrigues me more is why such a statement is true, rather than simply the fact that it is.

Football clubs are a mélange of male needs fused into a dynamic whole. They epitomise camaraderie, skill, stamina, blood sacrifice, and other such largely bygone vestiges of brutish maleness lost to all but war combatants, drunken idiots and maximum security prisoners; all of which can now be enjoyed at a comfortable, fence- or screen-separated distance. I am not – when I scream blue murder at umpires, commentators or Victorians via the television screen – any more a part of my team (the West Coast Eagles) than an oblivious channel surfer – and yet, I am part of the team in my unique way. In point of fact, I tend not to enjoy attending football games. I find the inane blathering of other fans – even Eagles fans – an irksome distraction. Never mind the geese who flock along to view an “entertainment”, or the people who for some odd reason prefer over-priced mid-strength in plastic cups to all other possible beverages, it’s the intrusion of other perspectives I neither want nor need.

When I am watching football – I am the only one who correctly interprets umpiring decisions. I am prepared during prolonged periods of post-game analysis (assuming we’ve won; otherwise the despair is too great) to wax lyrical and social as to whom was best afield, but it’s game on when the game is on. To reflect is to miss the next moment, and I can’t have that.

The need being served here is the chance to be right, supplemented by the equally important need for disproval of my rightness to be impossible. It is also the chance to immerse oneself in a finite contest, aided by a beer or two and a f*ck-off big telly, and, of course, the human failings of players, talkers and umpires. As much as I think Robert Walls is a prat, I couldn’t do without his inane observations. It’s not that I need him to tell me that a kick that has traveled out of bounds on the full was poor use of the footy; I could probably have figured that out for myself. No, what I need, what I relish is the chance to lambast his stupidity, and rest sound in the knowledge that my expertise far outweighs his, simply because a lifetime in the game doesn’t mean he can talk properly, whereas I can.

Similarly, I loathe poor umpiring, but fear the prospect of a game called without incident, for to remove the fallibility of human error is to remove the “sport” from professional sport. I have no objection to players eating shark placenta before games, receiving shiatsu massages in warm-ups or lobbing their Teflon vests into feng shui compliant piles in their numerology-sound lockers, but I do have a great fear that one day, we’ll have nothing to complain about. If you want simply to always have the best team win, get two computers to play one another in chess on different settings. Sound like fun? I thought not.

Loyalty to clubs is partly due to this, and because it’s easier to love an abstraction. The exchange between us – even if you’re a paid-up member – is essentially virtual. Clubs don’t scrutinise us; we scrutinise them. This is the nicer of the four possible permutations. And my club loyalty is in effect, a self-permeating syllogism, in that what I experience makes me want to keep experiencing it. My loyalty is to the game I love, which may not be exactly the same game loved by others, and that this is acceptable is cause for celebration.

Changing clubs to a real football fan ought to be as abhorrent as changing sports, or one’s first language. Players who move from club to club will be embraced on arrival and shunned (and secretly mourned in some cases) on departure. Such is the nature of the game; it is an endless companion that changes without ageing. As fans, like our teams, we are young forever.

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