Do you remember the shock of Brazil losing 7-1 to Germany in the last World Cup? It seemed as though the nation itself felt humiliated, but the next time the Seleçãoran out to play, the fans were there with their songs and music; their fans were always there. This evening the German fans must feel as the Brazilians did in 2014, having lost a match they were expected to win, having been defeated 2-0 by South Korea, they have been eliminated from the World Cup, knocked out of the competition in which they were champions, knocked out at the groups stage of the tournament for the first time since 1938. It is a passing thing, though, like the Brazilians, they will be back.
The sheer resilience and determination of sports fans is extraordinary. There were always apocryphal stories of travelling soccer fans – like the group of Glasgow Rangers fans who were said to have gone to the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Barcelona in 1972 and decided to stay on, being encountered by Scotland supporters in Spain for the World Cup Finals ten years later in 1982 – but there are plenty of much more prosaic tales from much more prosaic places.
Football has always been about more than winning; it is about the experience, (even mighty Brazil has won only five of the twenty world cups in which they have played). If it was just about winning, then how would anyone explain the thousands and thousands of people who follow football teams in the lower leagues? For the overwhelming majority of football teams, the only prospect of success is to win promotion to the division above, a promotion which will often be followed by relegation a season or two later. How would anyone explain the attendances season after season at drab grounds where poor teams play bad football?
The majority of those who go along to grounds and watch matches never see their team win a major title, never see moments that circulate on news coverage around the world. Few present on cold Saturday afternoons or damp Tuesday evenings remember the matches they saw, but the match itself seems almost secondary to the experience of being there. Like the Brazilian fans in 2014, the German fans are stunned for the moment, but they will be back, because football is about more than winning. As Bill Shankly said, when he was asked whether football was a matter of life and death, “It’s far more important than that.”