Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Football: The hatred and the violence 1

I have been talking about supporters' warm feelings of affection, love,  passion, fidelity, comradeship, and admiration. These are directed to qualities of the game: courage, grace, skill, tenacity, fair-play (a form of chivalry), ingenuity and so forth.

But the emotions engendered are not all admirable, at least not admirable in a civic sense. There is certainly hatred and, sometimes, there is violence. I don't want to think of these in terms of simple vice. I want to consider them as aspects of human energy as channelled through football in particular. Football is after all a competition, not an art form. The aim is to defeat the other side. This requires aggression.

Chess is an overtly strategic game that can be thought through. Football is more a matter of chance and improvisation, a flowing series of adaptations. Much of it is immediate and spontaneous. Spontaneity is expected. Even when a move is planned and perfectly executed it is as if had simply appeared out of thin air, as if by a miracle. The machine actually works!

Immediacy and spontaneity draw on the same energies as anger and joy and can turn to either at any moment, especially given the basis of aggression in a competitive game where everything is supposedly overt.

I have often thought of what the football crowd bring into the stadium with them. I think of male life with its inchoate overflow of energy in adolescence and then the necessity of controlling and channelling that energy into a useful social form. Life suddenly closes down. Work demands suppression of energy. Married life and parenthood require it. That suppression doesn't come readily and inevitably seems - like domestication itself - a drastic reduction, a weakening before one actually feels weak. - This is the beginning of a long and complex argument that could lead into difficult areas and it may be enough on this occasion simply to recognise the possibility that male adulthood can register as loss and that boyishness - the part of our lives that we sense is in some way the best and most productive - never quite leaves us because it has never been fully exercised, or, if you like, exorcised.

I don't want to lose track of my personal experience and having said I don't go regularly to matches. I listen to them, or read about them, or watch them on television. Doing so, I am aware that what I feel is a shadow or ghost of what I might feel if I were a member of supporters club and travelled by coach or rail to matches (as Tim Parks did in his excellent A Season with Verona). It may be a ghost or shadow, but I have a reasonable of idea of the reality of which it is shadow or ghost.

The point is that unfocused resentment, the residue of that unexercised and suddenly curtailed boyhood, is one of the energies we carry with us into a game. It is an explosive mixture in itself. Add to that the idea of the opposition. Talking of ghosts and shadows, it might be interesting to regard the opposing team as a kind of Jungian shadow, a projection in which we take everything that sits uneasily within us as self-knowledge and lodge it in the other team. They are the shadow side of every virtue we lay claim to.

Too simple? Most of the time it is. Manchester United might be defeated by, say, Norwich City, but there is no great demonising of Norwich because United fans cannot properly project their shadow onto something that doesn't at least approach a corresponding weight and size.The shadow is too big and Norwich too small and human.  It is different in the case of rivalry in terms of achievement or in terms of location.  United versus Liverpool, United versus (as it was), Leeds were power rivalries. United versus Manchester City is a location rivalry, much like Norwich versus Ipswich which, because of rough equality of size is also a power rivalry.

Do I therefore show hatred or violence towards Liverpool or Arsenal or Manchester City? No, I am a philosophical, slightly detached character who has an instinctive distrust of crowds and mass emotion,  but I am aware of the stirrings of such feelings and inwardly rejoice when one of the shadow teams loses, not just against United but to another team. I can sense the energy beginning to move and it can cramp me up, just like the anxiety regarding my own team's position and condition. I am carrying much the same baggage as the other supporters. My energies are never fully concentrated this way - I have various other ways of occupying them - but when I concentrate on the game exclusively they come creeping, then flooding back.

This too is a form of semi-articulate energy, to pinch a useful  term from Donald Davie. Late now. More another day.

1 comment:

Tim Love said...

Why does one support a football team? - I first liked Leeds (Johnny Giles et al) then drifted towards Arsenal but I was never really a fan. I've been to Highbury once (about 1970), Wembley once (2008), and Fratton Park a few times. I never felt part of the crowd let alone the tribe, but I could sense how easily people could be immersed. On Sundays I've watched my son play. My family support Portsmouth through thick and thin. Family events get Fever Pitchy sometimes. I never even played for the school, though one Wednesday afternoon I played with a fellow pupil who went on to play for Portsmouth. I couldn't name one of their players now. It's something to talk about at parties. It's a link to maintain old friends. It stops Saturdays being just another day. For me, it's a connection to my birthplace - I was born within earshot of the Pompey Chimes. Press the button on godfather's door and you'll hear them.

Pompey has a past but not football culture. Southampton are the pantomime baddies, though as you point out, the emotions that a crowd can express aren't always primal - When Arsenal thumped Portsmouth 5-1 at Fratton Park, the home crowd cheered Arsenal off the pitch, but cheered their own team too (they did their best. No doubt the Pompey goalie was man of the match).