Results that don’t matter

Nov 19th, 2012 | By | Category: International

For some reason, the ‘Daily Telegraph’ emails a round up of the weekend soccer scores in England. Among other things, it told me that West Bromwich Albion had beaten Chelsea in the premier division of the English football league. At one time, the score would have caused me angst, such days passed some time ago.

At the age of nine I made a decision that in later years would bring me a considerable degree of anguish and ridicule. I changed the football team I supported. Until May 1970 I had taken pride in the claret and blue colours of West Ham United, not that you ever knew what colours they were playing in on a block and white television. West Ham had seemed an obvious choice they had the England captain Bobby Moore and the 1966 World Cup hero, Geoff Hurst. But they weren’t flashy enough. 1970 was a time of outrageous glamour and fashion and the east end of London was neither glamorous or fashionable.

I was tempted away by the style and flair of the west London club Chelsea and also, much more importantly, by the fact that they were in the FA Cup final.

There was a brief period of glory: they won the FA Cup, the following year they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, and the following year they reached the League Cup final, and then the rot set in.

A quarter of a century of disappointment and abuse was to follow. Relegation in 1975 and 1979, a struggle to stay in the Second Division in 1983, sometimes it was easier to talk about cricket.

I remember travelling to Chelsea matches when I was a sixth-former in the late 1970s. To buy a return ticket from Castle Cary in Somerset to London, to travel by tube from Paddington to Fulham Broadway, to buy lunch in a pub, to get into the match, and to buy egg and chips for tea at Paddington station, cost just under £10. It sounds a laughable sum of money, except it cost me most of what I earned in a month. I had a job pumping petrol from 8 till 1 on Sunday mornings earning 60p an hour, £12 a month – £10 in a day was a big commitment.

But did it really matter, did any of it make any difference? I have seen people break down on tears at matches, I have seen people taken away in cardiac ambulances, I have seen horribly vicious fights take place, about what?

Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said, ”Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’  Bill Shankly was a marvellous man and manager, but his perception of reality was slightly askew. The result of a football match made not one jot of difference to whether someone had a home to live in, whether they had food on the table, whether they had treatment for an illness, whether it was safe for their children to walk the streets.

Preparing to travel to Rwanda and Burundi next week, the result of an English football match is fairly insignificant.



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  1. YNWA!! By the way, Heineken Cup is paying a visit to Ballyfin National school tomorrow. My James has his Leinster jersey laid out ready for the morning.

  2. I think if you wanted to see the cup next year you would have to go deep into France – ASM Clermont Auvergne are in powerful form.

  3. Indeed you may be right. Back to the football though. I love it. I love Liverpool Fc most of all. I love the passion, the camaradarie, the fun, the contest, the accepting of sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, the optimism that next time, next season will be our time. I don’t think it’s the be all and end all, I don’t think it’s worth an argument or fight. Football like all sports teaches one how to lose with dignity, but possibly more importantly how to win with grace. I knew a guy once who when losing a table-tennis match would start a dispute with the referee, his opponent, his shadow. With anything that might lead to the avoidance of the inevitable. That guy just wouldn’t accept the lessons of sport. Tribalism is as unwelcome in sport to me as it is in life. YNWA – You’ll never walk alone.

  4. Simon writes ‘Tribalism is as unwelcome in sport to me as it is in life.’ And the church. Will the church ever be free of it?

  5. I think tribal identity can be something positive where it encourages a celebration of one’s own traditions while recognizing the traditions and identities of others. I think we suffer from group closure, a very negative form of tribalism that, in a situation where the tribe is a small minority, serves only to ensure the disappearance of the tribe.

  6. Wasn’t Bill Shankly being ironic in the face of the even then overhyping of the importance of football when he said it was more important than life or death?

  7. One would like to think so – yet his comment has been taken at face value by many people since.

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