Followers of other codes will never quite understand the love-hate that football fans have for important matches.
Sure, other codes have important matches (I guess), but they aren’t decided on the razor-edged margins of football where the merest puff of a god’s whim can make all the difference. The angle that a goal bound shot hits the post or crossbar determines – by a millimetre perhaps – whether the ball crosses the line enough to be measured by a fallible human official, and that millimetre can mean the difference between going to the World Cup…
Because, as I’ve written before, goals are hard to get – and just one determines the game. Games like basketball or Aussie Rules have millions of goals so one goal in those games does not mean life or death as it does in football. Tries in league or union are hard-ish to get in comparison with basketball and AFL, but they’re still a lot more common than goals in football. So, in all those games the sheer flood of points means that the fans don’t really start to get anxious until the final quarter.
Not football. A goal conceded at any time is like a dagger through the heart for the fans because it has every chance of being decisive.
What this fundamentally means is that watching football is not really something you enjoy. It is something you endure, and the more you love the team the tougher your ordeal. For me, watching the Socceroos in a World Cup Qualifier is like watching a surgeon perform open heart surgery on a two year old. You desperately want the kid to survive but just one slip…
And the tension isn’t just for ninety minutes. It starts weeks before and gradually reaches its nerve-jangling climax at kick-off. I don’t know what happens after that. I often get to half time and can’t remember anything other than the goals (if any) and a kind of white noise in my brain made of hope and terror.
The weird thing is: I love it, even though I hate it. I look forward to the game for months, and then I can barely stand to watch, such is the gut churning angst…the white-knuckled joy of watching the Socceroos.
Tonight of course is the worst kind of night because the game doesn’t start until late so I will have to mooch about the house urging time onward while stewing in my ulcerous juices. It’s too early to sleep first and get up (as I might for say a 2.00 kick off) and too late to get the agony over with quickly. And either way the result goes, I won’t be able to sleep afterwards (from excitement or depression) so tomorrow is already a write off.
I am old enough to remember all of the World Cups we missed out on and the basket case the game was in (partly) because of that. I so desperately want us to go to every World Cup now, not just for the experience but to keep the game moving forward. I’m like a young Abe Simpson insisting on watching the first Super Bowl because it might have died if people didn’t support it.
But tonight it all about winning.
We have to win to keep our chances of qualifying strong, so now I’m going to be in a frenzy of inarticulate angst for the next few hours, numbly willing time forward to the final whistle.
And the thing that makes me truly pathetic?
I’m over fifty.
Adrian’s latest book Political Football: Lawrie McKinna’s Dangerous Truth is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.