If there is one thing that winds up and downright angers a passionate football fan, it is the fabled phrase “It’s just a game!”
To set the scene, I returned home last Saturday evening from watching Boro batter a distinctly average Championship side, but fail to score, again. I sat down and got into what is probably a father and son rite of passage, and what would be going in most Teesside homes that evening, a lively debate, bordering on argument, about football. As the debate got slightly more heated, my Mum wandered in to diffuse it with the “it’s just a game” line. It didn’t. It just makes it worse.
I was at a friend’s house with a huge group of people huddled round watching Middlesbrough’s horrifying display against Newcastle away last season. At the games death, everyone sat feeling dejected or complaining after seeing our Premiership survival slipping away. A non-football fan in the room popped up with: “Don’t worry, it’s just a game”. The room fell silent, the angry eyes of the football followers burning through the girl, who had the most confused look, not understanding the trap she had fallen into.
Saying that phrase to a passionate football fan in that sort of situation is almost as inappropriate as turning to the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury and saying: “Settle down mate, it’s just a religion!” I understand from the outside looking in it does seem like just a game where men run around chasing and kicking a ball. Those inside, who love that game, see it very differently. Your team becomes part of you, it is your identity. To see that team doing well, it swells your self confidence, makes you feel that you can tackle anything, and that you in your own little way have contributed to the team’s success. If it is going badly, then it sends you into a depression and makes you discontent, feeling that your life is crashing down.
It is hard to explain the emotions a football fan goes through; it can be a rollercoaster ride of pain and ecstasy mostly. To watch football, and to complain about it, gives you an escape, something you can be knowledgeable about without having to study it, and something to complain about that doesn’t affect your life in anyway, but yet you feel it does.Basically, this is not a plea for everybody to become football fans. If you don’t like it or even can’t stand it, I don’t blame you; I hate the game sometimes too. Just that the next time you hear a football related debate, please don’t belittle it by saying “it’s just a game.” It achieves nothing but to wind people up. At the end of the day as football manager Bill Shankly once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life or death, I assure you it’s much more than that.”