In contemplation of the remainder of this Champions League, the only available word is … drama.
Draw Juventus, and there’s drama about the bus. Draw RM and there’s drama about more Classics (even though the CL encounters aren’t Classics, but that’s another matter). Draw Bayern and the world implodes on its axis.
In anticipation of this last possibility, people are already staking out space, ground high and low, moral and more moral, real fan vs non-real fan, donning psychic armor for the battles to come. And this is before the draw. It’s like the football Crusades as supporters hoist shields and spears aloft, rushing to ideological battle. Over what?
We love this sport. Football is passion. It’s life. But it’s also supposed to be joy, fun. I see a number 10 Ronaldinho shirt and still remember the wonder of his time at Barça, not for the goals but for the fun. The game was fun, life was fun as joy was a single booty pass away. Today, in the quests for records, piles and piles of goals and conquest, it all seems a lot less fun as the team that we love prepares to face off against the best clubs in Europe. Exciting times lay ahead, whatever the outcome.
It’s a game. It’s passion. It’s life. But it’s a game, this thing that, it bears repeating, we have nothing invested in even as it feels like so much. I smile when I am in love. I don’t scowl, and I don’t argue because being in love means that I don’t have time to waste doing anything except loving. Which brings us to Barça.
Obviously, Barça will draw Bayern because of the ex-Barça factor in that team’s coach and star midfielder. Duh. But the issue and complexity for me is feeling, the lack of viability of an opposing view as supporters of the same team are ready and waiting to go to war for their cause, splitting the atoms of fandom. This can lead to grim places.
For those who aren’t familiar or heard about it second or third-hand, I was the target of abuse on Twitter because of a 2013 comment I made about Guardiola in this space. From that out of context moment came a torrent of rancor that was easy to deal with because people who know me know better, and those who don’t, matter not.
What interested me more was the reaction that people had to something that ran counter to their worldview, the sheer intolerance evinced in the reactions to a simple difference of opinion. “He’s a witch! Burn him!” The true beauty of the world is that there are a great many viewpoints, some similar, others widely divergent. And there is room for all of them except, it seems, in football. In that world if you don’t agree with someone else you aren’t a true fan, or are a “fanboy” (one of my favorite insults because it paints the abuser more clearly than the target).
On the other side of things is the “Can’t we criticize? What?!” implying that because someone feels differently, criticism isn’t welcome. Or “Why are you defending X or Y,” a misinterpretation that is often applied when an opposing view is aired. If someone says that “I support this club in this endeavor,” that doesn’t mean that someone who does NOT support that same endeavor isn’t a true supporter. It’s only the opinion of an individual. “You might feel this way, but I feel that way.” “Okay, cool. Now we know where the other stands. Visca Barça!”
In football, all opinions are welcome. I love respectful debate. For example, my view is that Thiago left for a better job as is his right, and the idea that the board snatched a player from the club that he loved and wanted to stay at, selling him for wampum and a few shiny trinkets doesn’t wash. And Pep Guardiola is a rival who will not hesitate for an instant to hurt the club that I love. My respect for what he did is immense, but I am under no illusion about what will happen if he has his way. This means that I am not torn by the potential of playing their team, nor will I feel any sort of wistful wooziness at seeing them, should things come to that point. I will want to destroy them, for Mascherano to leave cleat marks on their prone carcasses. And I will exult if that happens, and feel not a shard of pity.
The problem with that opinion is not the worldview but the idea that having and expressing it makes me someone who doesn’t have respect for what Guardiola did, doesn’t appreciate what he did for the club — that nonsensical, overused word “hater.” Further, that worldview makes me no more or less “right” than someone else who reveres Guardiola, believes that the board forced him out, thinks the world of what he is doing at Bayern and that the board screwed up because it could have, and should have retained Thiago. Both people support the same club, but have different views about a past situation. Okay.
What will be of paramount importance in this fraught time is respect, not only for each other but for our differences of opinion. We should be able to discuss things with RM, Bayern or Juve supporters as easily as with Barça supporters. Out in the world there will be name-calling, arguing and abuse, and it will be sad not only because none of it truly matters. Vehemence isn’t the point, and the last word doesn’t matter. Respect does, even in the black-and-white world of supporter opinion.
It isn’t the opinion. It’s the sheer vehemence of the opinion on blogs, message boards, comment spaces and social media as keyboard warriors face off in a humorless joust, but about what? The fate of a millionaire? The way a team plays or doesn’t play? People get defensive and will argue a point ad infinitum to what end?
What I would rather do, and I think this is important, is to remember that it doesn’t matter how someone feels about anything at all related to FC Barcelona. And that no matter what club they support that they respect me and my views. I don’t care if anyone agrees. Just respect the right to an opinion. And if that person is culer, they want the same things that other culers want, which is success for that football club. All the rest is semantics. And when Barça draws Bayern on Friday and the ramparts fill with battling culers, we should remember one thing that was a Nike ad campaign slogan but is so very true: som un.
But it isn’t just culers that are one. It’s every supporter of every team out there, top and bottom of the table, Atleti to Almeria, Barça to Cordoba, Chelsea to Stoke. We all getting our hearts ripped out or lifted to the heavens on a weekly basis. And even if we don’t see eye to eye on teams, tactics, players or coaches, we should at least, at the very least, be able to respect each other.