Some people say that football is like a religion. I have to agree.
Today, my team (Manchester City) beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage. The game wasn’t televised, so I had to rely on periodically checking the BBC website to find out the score – periodically because my son was using the PC at the time to watch Pokémon videos on YouTube. But I digress: City went 2-0 up fairly early in the game, and I spent most of the rest of the afternoon on pins, basically waiting for them to royally screw it up. Recently City seem to have had a habit of letting Fulham back into games – a recent draw at the City of Manchester stadium saw the away side come back from two goals down, while a year or so ago, they went on to win from the same position. So when Fulham pulled one back today with fifteen minutes left, I spent the next quarter of an hour pacing the room, heart pounding with worry that we’d let a similar lead slip once more.
It didn’t happen, but the emotion I felt when the full-time result was confirmed wasn’t joy so much as relief. And it’s almost always been the same. Perhaps this comes from the better part of thirty years supporting City, but I’m acutely aware of their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, so it’s rare I can say I’ve actually enjoyed watching them play. Only the few occasions where we’ve won a game comfortably have I been able to relax and just relish the football being played.
I imagine in many ways that relief that it’s all over is a feeling shared by those attending their place of worship of a weekend. Upon exiting, the sense that you’ve done something good or worthwhile – whether supporting your team or paying tribute to your deity of choice – is about the most significant pleasure you get.
And, ultimately, what are the rewards? Whether it’s football or religion, you go through good and bad times. Times when you question your support, times when life convinces you your faith is misplaced. With religion, you’re essentially choosing to believe that there is something other than a terrifying infinite void of nothingness after death, and that the years spent believing so will have been worth it. With football, you’re essentially choosing to believe that your team will eventually win something, and that the years spent believing so will have been worth it.
The similarities don’t end there. Many people are born into football and religion. There’s often very little choice in the team/god you follow. And if you defy your background and choose another faith (or abstain altogether), it’s highly likely your family will disapprove.
Either way, it’s a test of endurance. You’re spending time doing something you don’t always particularly enjoy in the hope that you’ll be sufficiently rewarded at the end of it. I’m sure there’s a writing analogy in there somewhere, but I’m damned if I can find it…