One of the joys of Euro 2020? Watching casual football fans suffer

One of the joys of Euro 2020? Watching casual football fans suffer

Football is about pleasure and pain, a zero-sum ball game. The level of joy we feel at a goal or a victory is mirrored precisely in the pain of others. This pain is, in a sense, at the heart of football fandom; for without despair, there can be no joy.

I recall Colin Moynihan, as minister for sport in the last years of the Thatcher government, saying something well-meaning, but specious about football. It was along the lines of the game being a good thing for the economy because when their team won, its supporters’ productivity would improve. Didn’t they have spads in those days? Surely someone should have explained that the opposite would also apply for the productivity of supporters of the losing side. If he had been a passionate fan of a club, he would have known this to be true.

The value of tournament football, the like of which we are in the middle of now, is that fair-weather fans can get to taste the bitter flavour of the pain many of us go through week in, week out for at least nine months of every year. To my shame and discredit, I thoroughly enjoy seeing these people suffer.

I am on about the sort of “fan” who will tell you they don’t have a particular club but quite enjoy football, and really get into it when their nation is playing. Many is the time I have watched my national teams, England and Croatia, with examples of this species. When it all goes wrong, I genuinely feel for them because it is obvious that, being unused to this awful feeling, they don’t have the psychological tools to cope. But it is still darkly enjoyable to see them get a taste of it.

I hope, at least, that never again will they say to me – or anybody else in these times of pain – that we should pull ourselves together because it’s only a game.