“Football’s great appeal lies in the way it allows those who play and follow to lose themselves in the game, to find 90 minutes of joy and triumph and camraderie to divert from everyday troubles. But there is an unwelcome side effect: Football can also make you much more miserable than you have any rational right to feel. This is not despite it being just a game, but precisely because of it.”
That gorgeous summation from a fine football writer, Raphael Honigstein, is everything. There is so much anger in football right now, particularly among the Barça fanbase. We see it here, those of us who are on Twitter see it there — factions, rage, backbiting and other manifestations of things that make many believe that we are the worst fanbase in football right now.
The weird thing is to wonder what motivates it. Under the last post, someone snarled about the piece, on things responsible for the current state of Barça, and that it takes a look at the big picture. And that was a bad thing. Someone else chimed in with the fact that it was simple: the team has a shit coach. The answers are never that clear, in football, as in life. When we stop to consider why we are where we are in the world, the particular set of circumstances that placed as at this point, good luck pinpointing one thing. In football, as 22 players chase a capricious little inflated sphere as if it was the world, was everything to everyone, the single source is even more difficult.
It’s hard to separate yourself from your opinion. to view a worldview as this thing that you can look at and study, the way a scientist studies a butterfly. It’s possible when your opinion is not you, when your words are simply a means to convey a thought that is in your head at that time. Circumstances change, so thoughts and opinions change. Asking someone about something they did or said years ago makes about as much sense, in the context of life and how it changes, as asking them why they haven’t strapped a rocket to their butt and flown to the moon.
If you say anything, you are going to be wrong. Because that, too, is what life does. “X player is finished.” Then he finds a new coach, new motivation and suddenly he’s killing it, and people are snarling, “See what you know, asshole!” Yet at the time, that view was an accurate depiction of events and therefore, valid. The only way to be right all the time is not to say anything, to spend life in a constant reactive state, the perpetual “I told you so.” But opinions are free. There is nothing attached to them except bandwidth. There is no right or wrong, only what happens. Take a stand. Make a call.
Football doesn’t matter to the vast majority of the people who follow it, even as it is everything to the people who make their living from it. As has been noted here before, when Barça loses, it bums me out. It even makes me sad sometimes if the loss is especially difficult or important. But that doesn’t last long, in part because the time is ripe to assess, to look at things and ask questions, queries born out of intellectual curiosity. Why? What happened?
Many ask whose fault it was but that isn’t as interesting for me because at any point in any given day, we all suck. Every last one of us. Now and again there are those days that are states of grace — everything flows smoothly, you have all the answers and it’s wonderful. Rare. Most times, we do some stuff good, some okay, some poor. So poor that we look over our shoulders as we clean up behind ourselves, hoping a stray ninja isn’t coming to lop off our empty domes.
Why would football, a game played by humans, be any different? Goals scored and conceded are viewed differently. Barça supporters will talk about a 32-pass sequence that led to a goal, a glorious thing unfolding like a domino. But a conceded goal becomes, “It was his fault.” Yet a conceded goal often has a seqeuence of events, just like a scored goal. The culprit, however, will usually depend upon who might or might not be favored by a particular supporter. There are some for whom Mathieu is responsible for conceded goals even when he doesn’t play. “Look at him, sitting there and distracting his teammates with how crappy he is!”
Opinions are malleable and situational, never etched in stone. Take them, and move on. Opinions shouldn’t come with fear, or worry that someone will say “You’re wrong.” First off, you can’t be about an opinion, because it’s just a point of view. Second, circumstances might indeed change, which makes someone’s assessment inaccurate. So what? Releasing the fear behing being wrong would in many ways remove so much anger from football interaction. As long as you think what you think, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about what you think.
Someone’s opinion is different from yours? So what? Why call them names, or accuse them of bias? What’s the value in it for you? There is someone else who thinks that you are as wrong as you think someone else is. That’s part of the deal. When we detach from opinions and worldviews, dicussions become pure. Favorite advice for young writers (or old ones, for that matter) is that they aren’t your words. When you send the story, let it go. It’s the reader’s story now. Opinions are espoused by us, but they aren’t us. Nothing happens if we’re wrong, so what’s behind all the fear and anger, the recriminations and accusations?
As the Twitter toxicity spreads, this comments space becomes more like the world at large. One of the best things about recent comment threads is that they have be purer for the most part, simple intellectual expressions of a worldview. That’s all we have. Discussions mean nothing, so why not have them?
On the other hand, we are all culers, attached to a club that we have come to love. None of us are better or worse than any other supporter, no opinion, direction or way is more or less pure. If someone thinks that Luis Enrique is the worst coach ever, while someone else thinks he is a club legend, it doesn’t make either person stupid, or worthy of insults and derision. Theoretical things should never become personal, never result in anger. Don’t give a stranger that much power over your life.
A favorite notion of mine is that you can’t defend Lionel Messi, that the Messi vs Ronaldo discussions are pointless because if someone doesn’t already understand, what can you say to make them believe otherwise? If someone doesn’t love Barça and support the club as you do, what can you do to change that person’s mind? It really isn’t even worth discussing. Just walk away. Ask yourself the last time a football debate resulted in anyone’s mind being changed one iota. So why the anger? Is someone worried or fearful that the person who doesn’t think like them leaves them stranded on an island where history might prove them wrong? Do we need to have others present so that we aren’t wrong by ourselves?
Let it go. Have an opinion, state it, put it out there like a balloon you let loose. Where’s it going? Doesn’t matter, because it’s no longer your balloon.