Following a football team is a beautiful and relaxing endeavour, we’d do well not to lose sight of that.
I, along with every well-adjusted human, was appalled to discover the racist abuse that a number of footballers have been on the receiving end of in recent times. Most notably on social media, the players targeted are often those who play in teams who are underachieving or playing badly.
Seeing these repeated examples of the worst kind of human behaviour is depressing, but I think it highlights a wider problem with following a football team, that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
Football, in essence, is a pretty moribund thing. At its most basic core, it’s 22 people who are fitter and wealthier than us running around for 90 minutes trying to put a ball into a net. Why do we care? Well, the answer is because we all follow a specific team, the identity which that gives us and the incredible feeling of actually going to a game.
Watching your team on television is a different matter, because in the time of COVID-19 and lockdown, you’re just watching a glorified training session. None of the feelings that actually going to a game bring are present, you’re not seeing friends/acquaintances who are all in the same building as you through wanting the same exact outcome.
As someone who perhaps struggles to make social connections with people as easy as I should by age 26, such an environment is wonderful. Meeting people with whom you have nothing in common with on the street, but knowing there is one thing you can talk about for three hours on a Saturday, whether you know them or not, is quite a rewarding social endeavour.
Following a football teams is a beautiful endeavour, but it’s one that should be relaxing, at least away from the chaos of the 90 minutes on the pitch.
What is happening more and more with COVID-19 is a loss of identity with actions on the pitch, because nobody feels part of it. The rise of anonymous social media accounts dedicated to a specific player or coach are problematic and help feed the cesspit of abuse that these websites can become.
Instead of gaining self-fulfilment from visiting a stadium and sharing an experience with people, the only thing there is to focus on is the result you’ve seen on television, and if that’s a bad result which makes you feel negative, what’s the point?
It’s important for people to not get too emotionally invested in what happens away from the football, because it can be very unhealthy. You’re essentially putting your emotional wellbeing in the hands of people who will never meet you, won’t ever care to meet you and probably aren’t overly bothered about how the team does.
For example, if your team is Manchester United, and you go to a game which the team loses, a human is still getting some form of gratification from the experience. If that is taken away, as has happened since March of 2020, it’s easy to get bogged down in why the club are struggling, why the owners are so bad and just why, oh why, is Ed Woodward still in a job. These are all questions that will never be properly answered, and obsessing over them, whilst natural, isn’t doing you any good.
We are all guilty of losing sight of what is important at times, and sport is no different, but investing so much emotion into following a team during lockdown can have negative results. So, next time your team lets you down and you’re hovering over the keyboard, just think to yourself ‘does this really matter?’
By: Chris Winterburn @cmwinterburn