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Measure for Measure

Spoilsport: The Football Delusion

Apparently, this was a terrible week for Scottish Football. Heads are shaken in dismay. Again.

That “…and-your-point-is-caller?” show on the radio is inundated with “analysis” of what went wrong. (Not that I watched any of the football, but I reckon the problem is: whenever they get the ball into the box…. there’s no one there to score…).

And I fail to understand why people care.

Often I have met people who believe that while watching their team play, that they are – in some real way – also playing. “We hit the ball up the park and then we scored.”  Teenagers, who have been asked to write about a personal experience, sometimes write about a match they were watching, in which they took no active part. But they feel they were in it.

It might be nice to be so caught up in a match that you feel as if you have something to do with the outcome. But, besides perhaps part-funding the team through your season-ticket – can a fan have any effect?

Maybe there is some physics at work ; that your presence at the ground, your shouts, your will to win somehow transfers (or not ) onto the team? I don’t see how though.

And then there is the fact that it is less to do with skill and more to do with money. The richer clubs buy the better players and therefore “should” win. It’s not an exact science, but I’m sure if the clubs were ranked by wealth, it would mirror their rankings in the league, roughly.

So, the fan, living vicariously, has even less to do with it. Especially if they just watch the matches on TV.

Then there is the idea of team loyalty being intertwined with your identity. If you have been brought up to follow that team, you feel a necessary connection with that team and its success. They win: you win.

But though the club may remain constant, the team is always in flux. Any eleven players selected for are individuals and are therefore arbitrary. They could be playing for another club not long after. Their loyalty to the club rarely matches that of the fans.

What if all eleven players you support one season play for your club’s rival the following season? (OK so it’s unlikely) But how can the colour of shirt someone is wearing make you involved with the success of their footwork  or the pride in their victories?

So, team loyalty: I don’t get it.

Let’s just watch Spain play.


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26 thoughts on “Spoilsport: The Football Delusion

  1. I feel the same way about most sports, men walking up to the t.v screen and yelling at the referee’s as if it would make a difference. Or when they are yelling at the screen and at a player to run faster and if the t.v doesn’t deliver the desired outcome, you don’t want to be around. I think you nailed the bewildering aspect of their behavior.

  2. LOL! With American basketball, fans believe that wearing a certain shirt, being in a certain location, or having a certain kind of food on hand will effect the outcome of a game! Without thinking, I’ve been that way about NASCAR so I admit I’m guilty of it too!

  3. Rickster on said:

    As you know, I have probably less interest in sport than you do (you seem to care about Wimbledon, after all), but I think there is a ‘representation’ aspect in football and other team sports. Its not that there’s a team and their supporters, its that there’s the fans and their representatives on the pitch – the teams are playing on behalf of the army of fans watching, whether in person or remotely. So the ‘we’ language is justified and, to some extent it doesn’t matter if players switch teams. I don’t really care, but I do understand.

    However, I really don’t understand formula 1 racing. Why does anyone invest any time in watching this?

    • Rickster on said:

      Further reflection on this, in the shower (where I seem to do all of my best thinking), led me to relate what you said to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. How can the actions of one man, distant in both geography and time, affect the lives and after-lives of his ‘supporters’? And yet the supporters will commonly speak in ‘we’ language about the effects of his actions.

      Sorry. The parallel is probably a bit too deep for a Monday morning.

      • I don’t think this parallel works. Anything historic has an affect on the present. And the future.
        In the sport thing, it is the present having an affect on the present – and people having different experiences with some thinking they are sharing an experience. Which they are not.

    • Whether Andy Murray wins or loses has got nothing to do with me. I’d be happy if he won, but there’s no connection between him winning or losing and my opinion of what would be a good outcome.

      The representative thing kind of works. But it’s still arbitrary, I think.

  4. Scotstig on said:

    I always thought that a psychological analysis of football was fairly simple. Football is tribal


    To many like warriors it is more important than life or death. To some it is religion!

    People can get wound into sport just as much as religion. I watched a program on BBC4 about early F1 racing and back in the 60s and early 70s there was very little safety as the crowd enjoyed “a good crash.” F1 is about the pursuit
    of ultimate reliability skill and speed and being
    the best and that is what people enjoy about it
    although it does seem like watching a traffic jam sometimes!

  5. If you don’t like any sport/band/other activity (whatever that may be) you’ll never understand why people get passionate about it and pour over the details, although you answer your own question when you say “If you have been brought up to follow that team, you feel a necessary connection with that team and its success. They win: you win.”

    Teams are bigger than the sum of the players; they have history, achievements, glory days and dark days. It’s a fact of life that the players change as they inevitably age, pick up injuries or move on to other clubs.

    Just because a game is on TV and you are not there doesn’t sever that connection. It’s still happening, the team is still playing to win, or the result may determine something in the overall competition.

    Frankly, sport would be pretty dull if everyone sat there quietly in the stadium and just got up at the end and left, totally indifferent to the outcome.

    • I get why people want their team to win. I don’t get how they think they played in the match.

      You can hope someone you admire wins the race: you don’t think you were on the bike.

      I hope 😕

      I am all for supporting teams. I just like a rational them/us divide.

      • Jonathan on said:

        But it’s not rational. Even teams that have been in the doldrums for ages can still command the most loyal support, when logically, fans should give up and support a winning side, rather than tasting defeat every week.

        Aren’t you getting overly pedantic about people saying “we won” or “we lost”, when it’s just enthusiasm carrying over? No one in the right mind would say that they played in the game, but people will naturally feel affinity with their team that they have followed for years, and celebrate the wins and comiserate in the losses, as much as they players themselves.

        Home field advantage is important. On a practical level, the away team has to travel to the stadium, and must use unfamilar facilites to train. From a psychology persepctive, home fan support can be significant, with fans cheering players on to improve their performance so as not to “let the supporters down”, while some crowds are downright hostile to the opposition. The Seattle Seahawks American football team even go so far as to call the crowd “The 12th Man”, and often sportsmen and women credit the crowd with support to drawn on through the match.

      • Overly pedantic?
        But no, it’s a real thing. I have read zillions of essays where the child has completely failed to see that watching a match was their experience- they just describe the match- nothing about their actual experience: eating the doritos, feeling excited or anything.
        And “They win: I win” was a direct quote that I manipulated.

      • Jonathan on said:

        Who’d want to read an essay about eating Doritos! 😉

      • Me! If that’s what they did.
        And You!
        I thank you for suggesting the topic for my post of the day.

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  7. boredandsober on said:

    Surely it is easy to understand how fans feel they win when the team wins. They are by definition fanatical, the team represents them and for the length of the match (possibly longer for some) they are emotionally involved in the match. Give fans credit, they don’t actually think they are scoring the basket, hitting the home run or scoring the goal. But they gain the same satisfaction. It is like religion, no real evidence but just an incredibly strong belief.
    If students are actually saying they were involved, explain they were not. However I think they mean they felt involved (which at least means they are passionate about something)and just need to improve their ability to express their feelings.

  8. Scotstig on said:

    Is football possibly an addiction? A recent survey of gamblers concluded that gamblers don’t feel that they ever lose they just nearly win. They enjoy that feeling nearly as much as winning.

    Perhaps why people describe football matches in the terms they do is that they are caught up in the anticipation of winning and anything that gets in the way of that just frustrates them. Not so much when fans are watching on TV but at a live match fans can take on the identity of the crowd even if they don’t entirely believe in it just so that they can belong.

    Perhaps the reason you don’t get football is because you come from a well balanced family with no need to be part of a mob mentality and also a well developed sense of self with no need to gamble your emotions on a game.

    • boredandsober on said:

      So to “get” football you have to be from an unbalanced family? What a lot of rubbish!!

      Most fans have grown up supporting their team and therefore have a strong affiliation with them. This is real and just because you don’t get shouldn’t mean that you criticise it and speak about it in derogatory terms. I don’t get religion but I respect people’s beliefs. The world would be better if more people did the same.

      • Fair enough, BoredandSober.
        A strong affiliation may be real – but beyond paying for tickets thereby financing the purchase of players, and actually playing for the team – is there anything else that makes the affiliation real?

    • In some ways, I do “get” football – when it is played well. I loved watching Spain play at the world cup, and I rooted for Ghana before they were put out. I have the capacity to “support” a team (in the short term) and to be happy if they win. I just lack the connection to make it to do with me.
      This could well be because I have no connection. And I think that any connection anyone has with a team is arbitrary, unless they contribute financially by buying tickets, or by physically playing. In these ways there is a real connection. But for the armchair fan, although they could be delighted or dismayed with an outcome – it has nothing to do with them personally – the match would have been the same whether they watched or went for a round of golf. That’s all.
      As for being well-balanced…. the jury’s still out….

      • boredandsober on said:

        I think u hit the nail in the head. If u don’t have the connection it’s impossible to understand. It is not something physical but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real, if that was the case then what is love, lust, happiness or sadness?
        I do agree there is less of a connection if you don’t go to the matches. But people still have it due to a number of factors such as family, social, religious or political reasons. Not that I agree with all of those reasons but it helps show why football can cause such strong feelings.

      • Ahhhh… I’m now about to be sucked into a philosophical whirlpool about the existence and nature of emotion…..
        Perhaps we are back to brain chemistry….
        *trying not to launch into a mini-series on emotion*

        Thanks for your input boredandsober – you have been very helpful in helping me change mental gear on this one.

        Although those essays will still fail!

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