I’ve never been a great fan of football. I mostly think of it as existing in two forms, neither of which are really very attractive.
The first form is the game we were forced to play at school on freezing days, where I would inevitably be the last to be picked for a team (for the perfectly valid reason that I was rubbish at football) and then left in goal out of harm’s way. The rest of the team assumed we would win 12-0 because we had that kid on our team who had boots with proper screw-in studs and his own shinpads. We would almost always go on to lose 12-0. Shinpad Kid would blame me for this defeat, which I didn’t really mind as I cared a lot less than the other kids assumed I would.
The second form is the top-level European game, which turns football into a sport contaminated with rotten money and entitlement. A sport where a routine part of the match is the team manager hurling abuse at the referee from the safety of a press conference when calls go against them, where the primary purpose of sport is to enhance shareholder value, where the expectation of victory is absolute and lagered-up bully boys go on the rampage because their team lost. There are plenty of people who aren’t lagered-up bully boys who can somehow tune all this out and enjoy it with a passion regardless, but I’m not one of them.
Occasionally, though, the stars align and a third form of football finds its way into my consciousness. When this happens the clouds briefly clear and I find myself understanding just a little of what it is that makes football exert such a pull on its fans. When determination and spirit come to the fore, when hope actually can be a strategy, and when a team goes into a match having not paid any attention to the expected narrative that they will fight bravely but ultimately capitulate to the far stronger side it’s possible to see wonders happen, and that makes me happy.