My friend Chris lives in New York. He sent me a message on facebook yesterday; it said "full of gloom yet?" I needed no further explanation. I knew exactly what he meant. As fans of West Bromwich Albion this is the state in which we live three quarters of each year, every year, wherever we're living.
I didn't miss the football season. At all. I was happy to enjoy the European Championships and appreciate the style and craft of the combatants without thinking about any misplaced patriotism. I had no emotional investment; I could experience it on a purely passive level - a voyeur, if you like.
If I try to think back to a time when I really enjoyed going to the match on a regular basis it would probably scare me. It may be that this time was actually 30 years ago. Certainly this would be true if I were thinking of success and attractive performances in the top league; it was also the time that I started actively going to 'the match'.
For a few years I was watching a great team, skilful players who played with a great spirit and didn't need to kiss their badges to prove their loyalty. I was amongst people who I considered to be like me, born of the Black Country and proud to stand and sing for their team. Last week I read that the average football fan is middle-class, male and in his forties. I once considered this to be special, now I've become average.
This is my main hobby, although I'd consider it more likely to be called an obsession. I use my leisure time to do it and frequently have to negotiate and arrange other responsibilities around it. It's time that I could be spending relaxing, but I never emerge from a match in a relaxed state. At best I leave exhilarated, at worst suicidal, but most frequently I'm just disappointed. Fed up that they don't do what I expect of them.
The thing is that I expect very little, perhaps only for them to try harder......or to not capitulate quite so easily to hoofers and cloggers, to fight fire with fire. I don't even expect them to win, often.
My default position is pessimistic. I have endured too many defeats snatched from the jaws of victory to even contemplate celebrating victory before 85 minutes. And even then we'd need to be three goals clear.
Frequently I ask myself why I bother; there have been times when I've given it up completely. I refused to go during the Ron Saunders years, a time in which we betrayed our philosophies - if such a word can ever be true of a football team. The directors made a bad appointment and Ron consigned us to years in the wilderness. At least that's how it seemed and still seems.
I guess I started going again as a social experiment! It was one of the few ways to see a lot of my friends in the same place, but once the terraces came down it was never really been the place it once was.
Now I find that if I'm not there the anxiety about how they're doing eats away at me, consumes my mind at the time that they're playing and if, as is usually the case, we've done badly then it'll frequently ruin my day completely. I know it's ridiculous to feel this way about something I can have no effect upon but even though I'm a relatively intelligent middle-aged man in my forties, this is what happens. I think I need help. My relationship with the Albion is dysfunctional at best.
I don't even do the 'banter'. I work on the basis that if you can't take it then you shouldn't dish it out. I definitely can't take it. I don't agree that it's more important than life or death, it sometimes feels that way though - and during the games themselves it is all consuming.
So, why bother? It's one of the few 'real' communities I belong to. There are frequent displays of wit and humour & a continual sense of a shared belonging, a real crowd mentality. Equally I sometimes hate some or all of them and I'm sure they hate me too. It's a social club that I'll never be able to leave. The football provides rare moments of intense pleasure and longer term bouts of sheer frustration. It goes with the territory and it seems that I'm stuck there. Boing boing, indeed.
3 days ago