This week in your beard-tastic Tramore Hinterland: why supporting an English soccer team is a disease. No ideas on what the cure is. Available for €1.50 at stockists in Tramore and its, uh, hinterland.
Many moons ago – 146 of them, give or take a few – I experienced an event that crystalised in its own small way the corrosive effect supporting a sports team has on reason and logic.
The location was Anfield Road Stadium. The event came in the tail-end of the game. Liverpool were 3-1 up courtesy of two Michael Owen goals – I don’t know which the very young would find more surprising, that he ever played for Liverpool or that he was ever capable of scoring goals – and coasting. Alex Ferguson decided it was a good time to give a newbie his first taste of the Colosseum that is Anfield, so on trotted John O’Shea. His introduction was greeted with hysterical delight by the Kop convinced this was evidence of the collapse of the evil empire. Nice one, Nostradamus. “Who the ****, who the ****, who the ***in’ ‘ell are you?” rang around Anfield. Knowing John to be One Of Our Own, I cringed. But it seemed like reasonable, er, comment. After all, who the hell was he to anyone not fromWaterford? Elsewhere in the ground though, a certain someone tut-tutted at such ignorance. “Typical Scousers” was the observation that emerged from his pen the following week in a local newspaper column from that unfortunate era before Tramore Hinterland.
I say all this not to start a fight with the person who made that comment. If you’re reading this now, you’ll see no offence was taken. I bring it up to highlight how two people can see the same event and come to diametrically opposite conclusions. Admittedly it’s a trivial dispute, and not in itself representative of two people for whom reason has gone out with the winder, but it is symptomatic of a broader issue to which we will return further down the article.
Before we do that though, let’s look at the curious state of affairs that is Irish people supporting English soccer teams. Both of us would wish teams and sportsmen from Tramore,Waterford,MunsterandIrelandwell, all for obvious reasons. So how can we rationalise our affections for teams with whom we have no connections? And make no mistake, people inIrelandcare a lot. I can’t vouch for habits of other people, but the team I invest most time in is Liverpool FC. A passing fancy, it is not.
I’ve come to the conclusion that supporting English teams is like being the member of a cult. You come to it at a vulnerable moment in your life. You’re young and impressionable, desperate to be part of the cool gang. No one ever joins a clapped-out cult with few members, or one whose best days are long past. The cult will either be repeatedly successful now, or be able to hold out the prospect of great success sometime in the future – this explains the ostensibly mystifying attraction to some of the cult called Aston Villa.
Once in, you’re hooked. It’s so easy to meet like-minded folk, and the enemy is clearly defined. They even have the decency to wear different coloured outfits so as to be easily distinguishable from the members of your cult. And oh, the promises of glory! The temple of your cult is so much more magnificent than anything on offer inIreland. Compare the cathedrals that are Anfield, Old Trafford, the Emirates orStamfordBridgeto the mass rock that is theRSC. Step inside and be greeted by glorious choirs singing as one, far more attractive than the shivering few thinly scattered throughout the temples to Irish soccer. It’s oh-so-seductive, and it would be very strong person who could spurn that Siren call once they have heard its song.
Now, you may question why supporting an English team is so much more like a cult than supporting, say, Waterford United. Supporting a local team is more akin to being the member of an established church. You can take it or leave it, and you’re not constantly under pressure to demonstrate the zeal of a convert. You can always claim to be a Blue even if you never darkened the door of theRSCwith your presence. You can even make a virtue of it, saying your team died when the Blues left Kilcohan. All this is possible because, well, you’re fromWaterford. The same is true of locals inEngland. Several Scousers of my acquaintance do not consider themselves to be fans anymore because they don’t ‘go the match’ – a remarkable number of them have not been since they seated the Kop. For all of that, the Irish zealot can never truly belong in the way they do. Going to the temple on a frequent basis is a case of running to stand still, a price of belonging that can never truly be paid.
Ah, the price to be paid. There is always a price with cults. The most obvious one is money. People who would righteously protest at having to pay €35 for a Munster championship match in Thurles or a tenner into theRSCthink nothing of tossing obscene amounts of money into the coffers of their particular cult. Shirts, coats, DVDs, bed linen, rear-view mirror furry dice – if you can imagine it, it’ll be available and you have to own it. Then there are those pilgrimages to the temple. Like the Haj, it has to be done. Unlike the Haj, once in your lifetime is never enough. Match tickets, accommodation, flights, a knees-up with your fellow cultists in the houses of the money-changers around the temple, paying for the massive spew in the back seat of that cab . . . it all adds up.
But this is nothing compared to the mental toll. Imagine a scenario where a priest of one cult – let’s call him ‘Patrick’ – accuses the priest of another cult, who we will call ‘Louis’, of saying something unpleasant to him. What do you do? Assess all the facts and come to a logical conclusion as to who is the villain and who is the victim? Dismiss them both as overpaid spoilt brats who you wouldn’t trust if they told you the sun will rise in the east tomorrow? Absolutely not. Not only must you immediately take sides, you have to climb into the trenches with your fellow cultists and slander the other party with impunity. Patrick/Louis is a stand-up bloke and Louis/Patrick is the devil incarnate. There is no middle ground, no room for nuance. To try and be reasonable about it is to be a splitter. It’s exhausting, and there are many times when you want to give it all up. But just when you thought you were out they win a match – not even a trophy, just a match – and pull you back in. It’s a burden for life.
It’s not all bad though. But for the cult of Liverpool FC I would never have met my wife. Remind me what your cult has done for you lately?