Only Just A Game?

I’ve seen that look a thousand times. Each time it’s worded a little differently but the gist is always the same. It’s not meant to be condescending, or at least nowhere near as patronising as it appears. Most of the time it is born out of genuine concern for my well being. Friend and stranger alike, staring me up and down like I’ve just beamed down from a distant planet.

“Why is he getting so worked up?”

Some understand, even if not quite to the same degree. Most don’t – can’t even – and see it as an overreaction to a meaningless consequence. The people who – when everything goes wrong – will say it is just a game. Words that poison the heart of everyone who has committed any real length of time to the beautiful game. For the devotees, it is mostly a very one sided relationship. An unrequited love which leads to almost annual – if not weekly – disappointment. Remaining forever loyal in the hope that things will be different one day. Those days – however infrequently they do occur – are the ones we cherish forever.

Divisive though it can be, it has the capacity to unite in a way that so few other things can. It’s a language that can be shared between cultures that seem to have very little else in common. Humanity bonds together closest through shared experience and though I might not know how to express myself in a variety of different tongues, I can still enjoy the thrill of a last minute goal with anyone around the world. No matter whatever else separates us, football remains the same.

What makes sport such compelling drama is the idea that at any given time anything can happen. True though that may be, within those parameters there’s enough which we can rule out. In actuality, despite the chance for something really peculiar to occur most of the time what we’re left with is variations of the same thing. Which is why when it does, it’s magnificent.

Moments are special because of three things. The first being most important which is the sheer levity of what’s at stake. Even a miskick can become legendary depending on what’s at stake. Next come the circumstances. What struggles did a team or player have to come through in order to ultimately triumph; the more dire the situation, the greater that glory. Lastly come the idiosyncrasies. Those layers of footballing irony that always seem to add insult to injury.

I’m too old now to feel that same kind of anticipation on Christmas morning.  That expectant joy which would make sleep almost impossible has given way now that innocence has faded and cynicism taken hold.  There’s a small flicker of it – a burning ember not yet extinguished – that can be felt on the opening day of each season but even that comes weighed down.  Such are the stakes that come with club football, everything feels a little too important to simply sit back and enjoy.  Which is exactly what the first weekend of the season is all about. From here, every single kick means something.  We won’t know what exactly what, until May.

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