What turns “everyday normal people” into screaming firebrands of pent up energy? What too has the power to split families, create rivalries, draw lines across the country and paint areas, ghetto-like, in one colour? And what gives thousands upon thousands of people intense delight and gut-wrenching frustration on a weekly basis? Lastly, what has created a universal language of comradeship and togetherness which can explode into intense rivalry and mutual hatred without the need for actual words?
Employment? Unemployment? POLITICS? Cult religions? Race relations? The gender pay gap?
Never..it can only be football.
There are two types of people in this world – football fans and others.
Modern man’s tribal bonding; the display of club colours, the chanting, the imbibing of alcohol and more alcohol, the mass hysteria, the rituals. By rebooting our ancestral roots, football resurrects the caveman still dwelling within us – and awakens his fears! Standing as one beside the fire amongst many like-minded fellows was to survive. Repelling one’s enemies with a group display of aggression – to appear to be the bigger “monster” – was to be safe. To lose the fight, to suffer humiliation, to be second best, was to die. That is football too! The terraces replicate the hunting grounds we thought we had left behind in our evolutionary journey. Maybe we have not evolved very much at all.
“Some people think that football is a matter of life and death – I assure you, it is much more important than that!”
That was a comment from the late, great Bill Shankly. To some people it is a joke – those people are not football fans!
Shankly understood football and more importantly, he understood football fans. He understood the demands of the tribal mindset and the subconscious penalties paid for failure. The tribe would literally be fighting for its life – for its very survival.
Shankly understood the common working man and his need to escape from the factories and coal faces to a world where the warrior could once again proclaim his strength and power with primal displays. He saw the humble cloth cap transformed into a war bonnet, the wooden rattle raised as proudly as any weapon.
Allegiances forged in the cradle are strong.
Children from football families are rarely given the choice about which team they follow. They are gently indoctrinated before they realise that there are other choices.
Not liking football is not on the table! Oh the shame!
Youngsters are presented to the tribe with pride. Picture Simba on Pride Rock! This is of great importance to the parent since the tribe’s continuing health relies on young blood joining the adults in the associated rites and rituals. The babies are taught the songs and the history. Also they learn the sworn enemies and the “nobody hates you, nobody cares” tribes that no-one fears.
Defending the sacred turf and the pride of the club is the role of the fan.
This is akin to a religion! The icon carrying flock attends the sporting church to worship beside the revered turf, calling upon a greater power for success – or at least, for a decent referee!
Carefully prepared for the match are the sacred relics. The lucky socks. The lucky pants. Superstitions are observed with religious fervour.
There are the pre-match rituals. THE scarf. THE shirt. And the hymns sung in unison. The books within the team bible are many and varied. The books tell of victories and past glories which are trumpeted to the heavens. Moreover, the infidel are consigned in song to the cold depths of league one.
The players are culturally a step removed from their adoring disciples. Resembling demi-Gods in the sacred arena, their names shouted with reverence.
But what if a player leaves?
It can work both ways however. A worshipped team member leaving the tribe instantly grows horns and a tail, visible only to the aggrieved parties. Any skills they possessed are immediately negated by the change of colours. Finally, football fans have long memories for anyone challenging the honour of the club.
Watch any group of (mainly) men watching a game in a pub. Banging tables, crying out in joy or pain, arms signalling the success (raised) or failure (cradling the head) of their favourites. Those same arms punching the air or barely suppressing the urge to punch a neighbour whose team is besting their own. Watch them covertly observing the guy beside them – where are his allegiances – what are his colours -is he of their tribe? Inter-connections are forged! Those making the same gestures of triumph will form a bond across the room – brothers in arms. But, those whose reactions show that they are not of the same group are regarded with sullen suspicion. Unless their team loses of course! Then, of course, they are prey!
Who are ya?
Football fans refer to the name calling and humorous threats as “banter”. Banter can be funny and witty. Moreover, banter can also be highly insulting and sometimes bordering on hate speech. It is the songs and chants. It is “in-jokes” about six-digit hands and webbed feet, questionable parentage and social standing. Banter is part of the colourful football world. Much of the real violence has died out now – the angry young men grew up and became lawyers. Trouble at the ground now tends to mean that the bar ran out of pies or the referee’s mother was his brother, you know? Crowds were sterilised and silenced as surging terraces gave way to seating. The rebels who used to smuggle weapons into the grounds now appease their inner terrorist by standing despite the stewards’ demands that they sit.
Some anger remains-
There are still teams which attract the angry mob, even in England. England! where the Government’s knee jerk reaction to football’s 1970/1980’s troubles almost reached high enough to split the jugular vein of the game. Most of the major instigators of the violence are now fathers to the modern crowds. aybe they are not wiser but their offspring seem to be. Mostly. Football is a great way of releasing pent up frustration – playing or supporting. It gives the disaffected somewhere to regain a sense of power without needing to consider adopting a political cause.
The police presence at certain games is markedly raised and tense. They watch the opposing factions, herding them along preplanned routes in a manner that can be seen in sheepdog trials. The sheep – or fans – obey their inner flocking instinct as a means of staying safe. As throughout all history, to be cut off from the tribe is to become vulnerable. Understand that and you are at one with any football crowd.
It is a game…it is only football!
This is my way of stepping back and observing my own tribal instincts to football through the glass of a screen. Firstly, we know it is just a game. Secondly we know it is unimportant in the overall scheme of things.
And yes, if your team loses, the sun still shines, the world carries on turning, the birds still sing. But ultimately the sun dims, the world slows and those bloody budgies are going to be plucked!
ITID…and if you don’t know what that means, you are not in MY tribe!!