Sunday, January 4, 2009

On being the fan of a shit football team

Went yesterday to Upton Park, to watch Barnsley being thrashed 3-0 by a mediocre West Ham in the third round of the FA Cup.  

Last year saw a brief spell of glory for Barnsley - every year, the cup provides the spectacle of a lowly club doing a David and Goliath on one of the game's giants.  Someone from League One might scrap for a reply against Man United, or even beat them.  But lightning never strikes twice - except last year it did.  In last season's FA Cup, Barnsley knocked out two of the big four on the bounce: beating Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield, then going on to dominate Chelsea at home and win 1-0.  Then, we went to Wembley for the semi-final, looked utterly incapable of scoring, and lost 1-0 to bloody Cardiff.

Yesterday too we never looked like scoring.  Kayo Odejayi, a striker who scored a total of five goals last season and has managed one - ONE - so far this season after seven starts and fifteen appearances as a sub, missed a header that my 61 year-old mum would have been able to score, proving that his ability in the air matches the excellent footwork that saw him roll a chance wide in the Cardiff semi-final when he had only the keeper to beat.  The ball rolled so perfectly he may be useless as a football player, but he has a great future in crown green bowling.

My wife laughs at the plight of supporting a football team that can't score goals.  It's a strange relationship - you can't change your team the same way you can't change your family.  In fact it's very like a family - you can slag off your siblings and parents on a daily basis, but as soon as anyone else offers uninvited criticism of them, the atmosphere can become very chilly indeed.

But there are consolations.  

I had to take a client to a Chelsea game once - the agency I was working for had seats there - and it was a dispiriting experience.  After fifteen minutes of football I felt privileged to see after a lifetime watching Barnsley toil, the home crowd started booing their own team because they hadn't yet scored a goal.  Chelsea went on to win 2-1, but the home crowd was still unhappy: it was only Coventry.  It should have been more.  Imagine being so bloated on success that anything less than perfection simply isn't good enough, when you expect to win by right.  Imagine how rare the opportunities for genuine delight.  Many Chelsea fans are no happier with a 1-0 that sees them secure a place in Europe than Barnsley fans are with a 0-0 draw against Blackpool.  Whereas we lowly intimates of failure - we'll remember the look on John Terry's face when the final whistle went at Oakwell last season until the day we die.   


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