376 Cameron 

It's hard to maintain dignity every time your team lose, with either loud or quiet moods impossible to shake off for adults who should know better

16 July ~ I thought it would get easier. A lot of things do as you get older – talking to strangers, avoiding friends – but this, no. It still ruins at least one day of the weekend when your team lose. A bad result coming through on Saturday or Sunday afternoon reliably prevents me from engaging with loved ones in a sunny and natural manner. Received wisdom is that, as one approaches the brink of eternal oblivion, the vicissitudes of everyday life make less of an impression on the soul.

At the age of six, if someone wanted to be Sticks, the cool America kid in Here Come The Double Deckers, and I had to be Brains, the kid with glasses, the world seemed utterly unbearable. Now, in late middle-age, I would feel able to negotiate this disappointment through the use of a rota system or perhaps embracing the part of Brains. So why does football retain for a lifetime all of its power to deflate?

In the interests of making an advancement for mankind though science, I timed the recovery period once. It was a Saturday afternoon in August 2011. The season was young; hope once again crowded in. I was listening to the radio while pawing a paintbrush listlessly at the stair wall. Arsenal rolled over 2-0 to Liverpool at home. At 4.55pm, I put my brush down carefully and withdrew to a still part of the house. It was not until after 9pm, during, I think, John Bishop’s Britain, when someone said something amusing – not anyone on the programme, obviously, someone in the room – that my senses of humour and perspective returned, like a couple of sailors returning from shore leave. Four hours had been spent in a mood in which, with only a little encouragement, I would have pushed a child off a low wall.

The traditional problem at the point of recovery is to disengage from the sulk while retaining some dignity. After this season’s loss to Manchester United I found that blaming half a day of anti-social behaviour on Nacho Monreal leaving Antonio Valencia unmarked to follow the ball is not a sound platform from which to start.

The impotent fury at some perceived injustice in the universe when your team loses can manifest itself in either the loud or the quiet mood. The opening scene of the Golden Gordon episode of Ripping Yarns, in which Gordon’s wife hands him ornaments to dash against the wall, remains the fictional yardstick by which all post-match tantrums will be measured. Internalised rage is documented in Fever Pitch, when, after Arsenal have lost at home to Derby County in the title run-in, Nick Hornby comes away from a production of King Lear that evening wondering what the man’s problem was.

At the quiet end of the spectrum, I know a West Ham fan who watched his team get relegated in a bar in Tokyo and walked furiously back to the hotel in a deluge of rain. The concierge asked him where he had been during the earthquake and he had to admit he had failed to notice it. The life opposite here of the deplorable Andie MacDowell line in Four Weddings and a Funeral and an example of a supporter made too miserable by football to feel the earth move. Another case study I unearthed was of a man who watched England lose to France following a late Zinedine Zidane penalty. Afterwards, his sister wanted him to move away from a neglected bag on the train platform and he refused. It is not so much a case of “I want to die” in circumstances like this, more of a “let it happen” mentality resulting from the newly reacquired knowledge that the universe is ungoverned.

But this is probably all learned behaviour. Watching Michael Palin hurl a carriage clock at the mantelpiece, or the recollection of staying indoors on a warm Saturday evening because father is violently gardening away a poor result against Spurs – these give us memories by which to measure our own behaviour. It becomes correct practice, when your team lose, to suffer and let those around you know it. Since clubs first began, in the late 19th century, to identify themselves through their opposition to other clubs, rather than as places where locals might gather to play or watch a good game of football, generations of fans have been sucked into the cycle of euphoria and grief. Think of this: would it truly be possible to trust an individual who, returning from a defeat at Wembley, was able to help a tourist with directions? Of course not. They could not be a proper fan.

When Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League, surrendering at last to the serene inconsequentiality of Europa, it was almost a relief. Surely there was no such thing as a bad result in the Europa League? That opinion lasted right up until the late Atlético Madrid goal in the semi-final first leg. Something reliably snapped inside me and I turned off the television with an angry squeak.

Later that night, I found myself watching my girlfriend with our dog, asleep next to each other on the sofa, his paw in her hand. And I remember thinking: “This – this is real. And yet they cannot get Arsenal into the Champions League through the back door. And I’m still angry. And I’m 52.” Cameron Carter

This article first appeared in WSC 376, June 2018. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more here

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