It’s more common to see fans simply taking a loss on the chin
26 October ~ Twenty years without a major tournament confirmed by an absurd Poland equaliser from a needless free-kick – all in the additional minute of injury time necessitated by a child invading the pitch for a selfie with Robert Lewandowski: Scotland exited Euro 2016 in the most tortuously perverse style imaginable. I was behind that goal, in Hampden’s Jock Stein stand, shattered. But as I clambered out over some picturesquely distraught members of the Tartan Army, posing a mood shot for the Sky cameras never occurred to me. I only cry when my team wins big games.
Facebook’s recent TV ad tells sports fans it’s okay that “numbers on a scoreboard make us cry with joy or with pain”. We can apparently identify our Facebook friends, “because the same tears will be in their eyes”. A saccharine instrumental version of the Pixies’ Where is my mind underscores footage of a Bolton fan in club scarf and strip, in a house plastered in Wanderers memorabilia. This exploitative portrayal of extremes tells fans we’re loveable eccentrics. We’re not. Most of us have it in proportion, taking the defeats on the chin, earning those rare future occasions where we go truly bonkers – with joy.
I’m no stoic. Real life setbacks frequently have me bubbling. But if any footballing setback was ever going to reduce me to tears it was Scotland going 2-0 down after 13 minutes against the Faroe Islands in 2002. This was true humiliation. However it was also our first Euro 2004 qualifier. Nothing was conclusively won or lost (literally – it ended 2-2) therefore the cameras didn’t need sobbing signifiers of catharsis.
Furthermore, since two late spectacular Rangers goals won us the 1981-82 League Cup final, only momentous success has me snivelling at events on the football field. Endeavouring to weep openly after big defeats is a modern, safer form of terracing bravado. But, while outside broadcast units remain disturbingly obsessed with young female fans, the demand for tears from defeated punters has also become faintly pornographic.
The images of Brazil fans enduring their 7-1 home humiliation by Germany in last summer’s World Cup proved educational. Those in tears, for me, didn’t get it. Those with the cold, dead eyes and hollow demeanour understood. Most likely to cry at big losing games are those who instantly revert to guffawing and waving the moment they spot themselves on the big screen – children and tourists. They’ve been overwhelmed by an atmosphere they don’t understand, an atmosphere created by people who live the sport.
In Scotland aesthetic torpor seems to have been modelled on the footage of genuinely distraught Hearts fans, after their side threw away the league title at Dundee on the final day of the 1985-86 season. The cameras had to seek out moments of private torture that day. Now scores of fans at any such game are eager to show their commitment to the cause through floods of tears just as easily raised by the denouement of Brokeback Mountain or that scene in Bambi.
Just following your team and sucking it up is more than loyalty. It’s respect. Slumping in your bucket seat, throwing your head into your scarf-covered hands and animatedly sobbing implies your team’s loss means more than the opposition’s victory. It can be, in the truest sense, unsporting.
Thankfully, most of us take it like “real men”; by, for example walking in bitter silence from Hampden to the horrible bar in Glasgow Queen Street station to consume two pints of lager, a Jack Daniel’s and Coke and a packet of KP dry roasted peanuts in the 20 minutes before our train arrives. Sky can broadcast my heart attack – Facebook can find a suitable emoji. Alex Anderson
Photo by Simon Gill: Dejected Rangers fans in central Manchester watch the 2008 UEFA Cup final