All things associated with the game of football that provoke passion look to an outsider as inherently childish. The mere thought of a grown man in face paint and a blue wig crying already has me laughing on the inside but putting it in the context of it happening on the last day of the season because his team got relegated on goal difference; I suddenly find myself feeling an empathy to this unknown individual. Without doubt, it’s an emotional boundary we only allow ourselves to cross for proper sport like football.
Football in particular is an environment exclusive to all kinds of warped behaviour; and it’s a sport that has rolled with the cultural punches. Rivalry in football is the most fantastic example of a childish aspect of the sport. We’re talking club rivalry of course. History of success between a certain country’s top two clubs, all the way to religion. Rivalry makes the sport all the richer as it adds a competitive edge beyond trophies, and as we get older, we learn more about the game and attach our learned judgments to the bias of childhood.
It can turn nasty depending on the stakes but the most pure form of
rivalry is that which exists in the week before derby day in the school
rooms of those in the last year of primary school or the first year of
secondary school. Ideally, between two sides in the lower leagues where nobody really cares (sorry, I’m a Premier League snob) and the result never really matters. That’s where it is born.
For the week before, you found yourself aligned to the school prick just because he supported the same team as you, even if you thought you were a bigger fan because you had the new kit and came to the first PE lesson of the school year in it, and he only had the market version (and even though he proper twatted you last week). Or even worse, last years kit (oh 9 year old self – if you’d only realised retro was cool. If you’d only realised staying the same size and weight would have saved you a fortune from classicfootballshirts when you were 20 years and 10 stone heavier). But, allies you were, against “the Pigs” (each side were the Pigs). Ah, the Pigs.
It may seem an adult convention to wear the same boxer shorts as you wore since the last time your team lost but it all derives from the playground where you would go through the superstitious ritual of playing “Red Pigs v Blue Pigs” in the belief that your result would somehow affect that of the one on Saturday. “We’ll score a last minute winner just like that”. It might get a bit nasty, with a few fists thrown after a dodgy tackle, but no matter who won the fight, you knew that the real winners, the winners of the war, would be the supporters of the victorious team on Saturday.
landfill of a pitch bereft of any quality because there isn’t any in the
penniless leagues? Well, it doesn’t end there, because there has to be a winner. Back in your granddad’s day it might have been good to shake hands and share points with your local rival, wishing them well for the rest of the season and even (what?) hoping they too would win a trophy for the good of the town. But your dad is a frustrated man who never managed to become a footballer in the generation when weekly wages shifted from £1,000 to £50,000, a man who never even really tried to become a footballer but still begrudges those who did. And he’s living vicariously through YOU. Failure is not an option, despite it being all you’ve ever known. Unfortunately, there’s another 5 months until the next derby, but lo and behold, in just 3 weeks there’s a reserve game between the clubs!
go to the first team game. Daddy can’t afford £60 for 2 league two
tickets)!Forget the league game, THIS is the one that matters. And better still, your team has Frankie McLivingstone, a former Scotland international striker, coming back from injury and making his return. He’s gonna score a hat-trick and stuff the Pigs. Unlike last time, there’s no weekly build up, but nonetheless there is something of a carnival atmosphere on the night of the big game. The teams
are announced; McLivingstone is on the bench. Disappointment, as your 12 year old self doesn’t understand why the 18 year old Vernon Castlebury is starting because when he walked out onto the pitch he just looked a bit shit in the build up and well, you’ve never heard of him.
The Pigs take a 2 goal lead early on, Castlebury pulls one back and looks a real danger, a real livewire. Half time, the Pigs lead 2-1, and on 60 minutes, Castlebury is replaced by McLivingstone, looking half cut and at least a stone heavier (could pass for his angry twin). Finally, you yelp, unperturbed by his slow amble and desperately poor touch. McLivingstone’s pouch loses a battle with the Earth’s gravitational pull at a corner and the referee inexplicably awards a penalty. Johnny James converts, but you console yourself with the fact that McLivingstone’s done the damage and justified why you wore his shirt tonight. Game over at 2-2. Again, there must be a winner.
Meeting up with your rival mates outside the ground you bicker about the merits of whether it proved you were better to take a two goal lead or come back; jeer about how they shit themselves when McLivingstone was on the crawl. Looking back now, the names and teams have changed, but men across the country find themselves in identical scenarios on a game by game basis.
So what’s new? Well, hardly much. The logic behind the reasoning is, ironically, even more difficult to understand. We hide behind all kinds of reasons and contort any statistic we get our hands on to justify the point we are making. But sometimes it’s important to take a cold hard look at ourselves, and remember where it all began. Have we really changed that much?
With the notion that what was once was will be once more, it would be nice to think that as the children of this generation ascend into adulthood, the more gentlemanly aspect of the sport will become prevalent once more. What should never change is the childish aspect of it all; because that is what makes rivalry great. Rather than allow that childishness to turn to bitterness when we get that little bit older, we should take a step back and look at ourselves the next time we get wrapped up in ourselves. Rivalry can be good but, if we can learn to laugh at ourselves the next time our faces are daubed in primary coloured halves and our team suffer a last minute loss, it can be that little bit richer.