Oranjes and Lemons Part II – Out of Juice

This just in: football is shit.

It teases, it tempts, it finally draws you in after four weeks of muted interest and conflicted support, and then as soon as you become engaged BANG you get slapped back down again, and you wait for the sharp pain to give way to ambivalence. Before too long you’re right back where you started, only you’ve left another little piece of yourself on the floor. You go all Edgar Allan Poe and cry “Nevermore!”, vowing never to become emotionally invested in a sporting contest again although deep down you know you’ll be back.

Touché football, tou-bloody-ché.

Forgive my melodrama, I’ve been up since stupid o’clock. I walked to the train station in the middle of a cold winter’s night, as an orange-tinted moon was setting (pretty good as far as portents of doom go), to catch the first train of the day in order to get to a pub in the city and watch my ancestral football team play in a World Cup semi-final.

And lose. On penalties. After two hours without a goal. And the coffee there was liquid crap in a cardboard cup.

The Dutch had chances, dominated the game at times. They had a defender in Ron Vlaar who kept arguably the World’s greatest player quiet for 120 minutes. But when two of his teammates declined to take the first penalty kick he was asked to step up because, in the words of his coach, he was “…the best player on the pitch”. He accepts the challenge, however his kick is saved and he ends his night a shattered man. Then to top it off the corrupt muppets at FIFA award their Man of the Match to the opposition goalkeeper, whose first real act of the night was the aforementioned penalty save. Yes, football is shit and sport in general is a heartless bitch.

So where am I going with this mid-morning-feels-like-late-afternoon-need-more-coffee rant? Here…

I hate sport. I mean I love sport, always have and always will. But sometimes I REALLY hate sport.

Most things about sport I unconditionally like: the contest between two opposing entities. The skill, courage, strength and dedication it takes to compete. The camaraderie between fans and mutual observers. The excuse to drink beer and eat crap food.

As soon as you make an emotional investment in sport however (like most things in life) things take on a whole new level of gravitas. The risks are higher, but so too are the rewards. It’s like placing a bet, but the stakes are more emotional than financial. Lose an emotional bet and the hired goons sent around to collect their winnings may only be in your head but they can be bigger than any kneecapper knocking on your front door; bigger in fact than anything you could imagine. And if, like me, your head is already a place where the forces of sanity and insanity slug it out in some sort of mental Wrestlemania (two personalities enter, one personality leaves), then the last thing you need is to ride the roller coaster that is being a sports fan.

So why do we make such an investment? What makes us choose a participant in a physical contest to represent us? To be the standard bearer for our own hopes and aspirations? To be our champions? Well there’s a whole changing room full of reasons. It could be a way of identifying with your hometown or the place that you currently live, it could be born of a desire to be part of a tribe, you could be vicariously living out your own atrophied sporting ambitions, it could be an attempt to escape the mediocrity of your own life, or you could just think that number 14 is hot in their short shorts. For mine there are two reasons… the first is to belong. We all want to belong to something; sport just happens to be an ideal vehicle for satisfying this need. The second is that it provides hope, no matter how misguided it may be. And we all like hope, don’t we?

Either way, sport has been one big fat cock tease the past few months… Fremantle’s maiden AFL Grand Final, Liverpool’s emotional EPL tilt, the Socceroos’ valiantly quixotic efforts and now this morning’s slugfest in Sao Paolo. I know I know, ’tis better to have loved and to have lost than to never have loved at all, and whatnot. Still, any one of these near misses would be enough for me to say “Enough is enough” and move on with other aspects of my life, God knows there are enough competing interests to occupy my time. But just like the ageing sportsperson who’s going around one more time in search of that one last victory, I’m hooked. And that’s OK, because once the anguish passes I’m left with the things that draw me to it in the first place. The aesthetics. The contest. The camaraderie. Just not at stupid o’clock in the middle of a cold winter’s night.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some matchsticks to prop up my eyelids with.

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