…Loving The Game

On Monday 20th August it finally happened. I admitted what had been, truth be told, a long time in the making. At half time of the United match I told myself what I already knew before making the knowledge public.

I was falling out of love with top-flight football. Possibly the professional game as a whole.

That is not to say I had fallen out of love with the game, merely that I’d come to accept that the process of falling in love had begun to work in reverse. Football, this delightful deity, had shown her flaws to me and I, in turn, had seen her mortality.

When football and I first started to fall in love it was a coming together of many things. I won’t bore you all with the story as I’ve already documented it on here — see ‘My Birth as a Football Fan’. Those blocks kept building; making the sport ever-more impressive to my eyes.

However, if I’m honest with myself, those blocks have slowly been crumbling for over a year now. The more I come into the contact with the FA (on a personal level, not in the ‘Liverpool fan disgusted by the Suarez case’ way) the more I find them to be utterly incompetent and elitist. Every so often I watch a professional game and come away reeling, amazed by the brilliance of what I’ve just had to the fortune to witness… before reality sets in and I realise I witness such spectacles far too infrequently for as avid a watcher as I am.

I, as with every football fan, have been surprised by the greed of the modern ‘professional’. I, as with every football fan, have become disillusioned with the blatant overuse of gamesmanship in the modern game. I, as with every football fan, had begun asking myself when enough would be enough.

When I first started falling in love with football, 22 men would compete for the taste of victory; it was all done for the pursuit of glory. Now I find myself watching a game and questioning how many of said 22 care for the final result beyond a personal vanity. How many of them want to win, not merely avoid defeat and feeling bad as a result? How many of them care about the result at all, as long as they get paid at the end of the month? I’m sure that the vast majority still crave victory but it’s no longer unanimous and I find that disheartening.

From the perspective of clubs, tactics were first invented to enable a greater chance of success. Tactics have since evolved, as most intellectual activities are wont to do, and now play just as large a part in avoiding defeat as they do aiding victory. On one hand, it can be entertaining to see a well-prepared David battle against the odds to deny Goliath a victory. On the other, 90 minutes of 11 men denying us the expression of the other 11 can be tedious, at best.

Over the past year I’ve found myself watching games ‘in the background’, finding other sources to feed my interest while waiting for the roars of the crowd notify me of actual entertaining taking place. From being a young teenager watching the most random of games for a sense of fulfilment, I found myself a young man watching United almost exclusively — with other Premier League, Bundesliga and top Spanish games on in the background. My drug had become my background noise.

A pursuit, I’m sure, that went unaided by United’s unique ‘brand’ of football last season. For such a fine selection of world class talents, the cocktail of complacency sans tempo with a dash of disharmony was thoroughly disappointing. The lack of endeavour, on occassion, most certainly didn’t help either. If there’s one thing I detest, not simply on a football field, it is to watch someone fail themselves or their talents. I find the entire notion tragic.

All too often I saw United put together a string of mesmeric play, easing to a 2-0 lead, before easing into a nail-biting finish. Sir Alex would laugh it off as the players doing it the difficult way. I would find myself struggling to see the Sir Alex of old laughing at such arrogance. As the saying goes, we’re not supposed to be arrogant, we’re simply supposed to be better. Last season we weren’t better, as the train-wreck of a late-season performance unfortunately proved.

Suffice to say, I found myself struggling to get enthused during the summer ahead of the upcoming season. The Euros were a nice distraction but my apathy for international football made it feel like I was watching a set of glorified friendlies. The Olympics were a festival of sport but I can’t say I ever equated them to football. I asked myself if I was merely being pathetic — was I in some sort of childish bad mood because United had lost the title in such an epic way? Was I the glory hunter I always claimed to hate?

Come the start of this season, I felt unprepared. There was no pre-season buzz. I didn’t feel like I was going to explode from the anticipation every day for a week. In actual fact, I felt like the first week of Premier League action came too soon. I wasn’t ready for football yet. With United playing on Monday evening I had all the games on (in the background) but cared little.

Before I knew it I was dragged, hesitantly, into Monday. Within minutes of the first half kicking off I felt no wave of euphoria — football was home but was I? By half time I admitted to myself what I already knew:

Football and I need a break. I need to remember what makes football special before I can truly enjoy it again.

Fast forward to this week, today to be precise, and I put Swansea on in the background. It was a gripping match, I was hooked and I felt ‘normal’ again. Beautiful football invokes that in me. Upon hearing the news that Wayne Rooney had been dropped I decided to watch the United game. It’s no secret that I find it hard to enjoy his contributions to United since his inexcusable actions.

At half time I went downstairs, all smiles. Whisper it, but had United learnt their lessons? Were we going to win games this season through asking questions the opponents had no answer to? Truth be told, I’m tired of seeing games won where a series of tedious questions are asked solely to put the opponent to sleep before capitalising on their lack of concentration.

Then the second half hit me. And Monday came flooding back.

I definitely need a break. Wake me up when the game becomes beautiful again. I still love her but I fear we’ve grown apart. Maybe some distance between us will help me remember everything I’ve been missing. Don’t get me wrong, I can watch football and find myself entertained in a way that 90% of most activities can’t offer. My issue is that the percentage used to be 99. I still love the intellectual side of the game: breaking down systems, noting the styles of play in both teams & players, predicting the fortunes of clubs, etc. The ultimate question is what all of that’s worth when I can’t fully enjoy the 90 minutes of the good stuff during the weekend.

I simultaneously miss football yet resent it. A break will do us good, right? I certainly hope so.