They call football the beautiful game, but, sometimes, it’s not. Football is associated in the minds of many people with great expectations shattered on the rocks of reality. And yet, it’s worth it. All of it; the pain, the exasperation, the sheer frustration – all of it is worth it when you get a glimpse of a victory. I know this more than most. I’m a Hearts fan and a Scotland fan so I have felt my share of pain (especially this year)! But despite all the disappointment I still love my teams.
Without a word of a lie the best moment of my life, bar none (yes – none), was 19th of May 2012: the Scottish cup final between Hearts and our arch rivals Hibs. It was the first all Edinburgh Scottish cup final since 1896 and we slaughtered them, 5-1. By the 50th minute of the game when Ryan McGowan scored our 4th goal it was over, the Hibs fans were leaving in their droves, the players had given up the fight and 60% of the stadium (myself included) were bouncing together in a sea of unimagined glory and triumphalism. Those special moments make all the pain in the world worth it. Every football fan has such a memory.
Now, as a Scotland fan I don’t for a second believe that I’ll ever experience anything like that with my national team, but sometimes it doesn’t matter, when your expectations are low. As a Scotland fan they are always low and we always fail to meet them in my experience.The standard point of view in Scotland is that not qualifying for the world cup can be a good thing, after all, it means that we can enjoy the football festival rather than get distracted with silly notions that we might actually win.
And so we turn to England! At the last World Cup I decided to grow up; I regularly work in England, many of my friends are in England, I adore London and Yorkshire (where I went to University), so it was only logical that I supported England. What a mistake that was!Not only did I have to suffer some of the most embarrassing football and awful team play in the tournament, not only did I have to watch goalkeeping errors that are the speciality of the Scotland squad, I entered the tournament full of expectations – a new experience for me.
I thought being a Scotland fan was hard but being an England fan must be worse: the media pump up the team and supporters full of expectations such than nothing short of a total victory and obliteration of all opponents will suffice. The fall from such great heights is hard and cruel. I honestly don’t know how England fans do it.
But this World Cup I’m supporting England again. Disappointment goes with the territory, but (and I so hasten to use this line) it might be different this time. Expectations are low – very low – in the ‘group of death’. Consequently the pressure on the team (and supporters) is much lower. Supporters can take consolation in any small victories and if England fail to qualify to the knockout stages then it’s unlikely to dash too many hopes.
The trouble may come if England do make it through the group stages! The shock and surprise will be too much for the BBC and newspaper media; everyone will be quoting 1966 and expectations will go through the roof and even I’ll get caught up in it again. Nothing short of victory will suffice and the fall from grace will be spectacular.
You can tell yourself it’s only a game, you can prepare yourself for that disappointment, but in your heart of hearts you hope that maybe this time, just maybe, you might just get another one of those special moments that you will remember forever. It’s that hope that makes football the beautiful game.