diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 03, 2013

What a couple of days it's been for football. An epic North London derby in which Arsenal outclassed Spurs. A northwest needle match which saw table-topping Liverpool humble the mighty Man Utd. The nailbiting conclusion to transfer deadline day, in which Arsene finally splashed cash and Gareth Bale became the world's most expensive player. The lips of the nation have been abuzz with sporting chatter, injury worries and transfer speculation. And, I have to say, the whole thing's completely passed me by. While others get wound up and excited by all things football, I can very much take it or leave it. I lack sport empathy.
sport empathy (noun): the ability to understand and share feelings of others' sporting achievements
I don't get it. Surely sport is just a bunch of people competing against others. I can see why winning matters if you're one of those taking part, but I don't understand the rush of emotion that comes from supporting someone else. Your team wins, you cheer. Your team loses, you mope. Your team concedes a goal, you shout at the television as if somehow they can hear you. Your team wins the cup, you float on air. Your team is beaten three nil in the very next match, your world almost ends. Your team fights a scrappy no score draw, you spend an hour afterwards debating with mates what went wrong and what tactics the manager should have adopted, the idiot, what does he know? Armchair football is an endless rise and fall over which you have no personal control. I don't get any of that.

I will confess to keeping an eye on what's going on in the world of sport. I need to, because people at work are going to be talking about it, and I need to keep on top of at least the basics to maintain conversation. I track down the football results at the weekend, and occasionally dip into a liveblog to see how a game is progressing. I have a rough idea of whether Andy Murray's still in or out, and whether or not the test match has been rained off. But it doesn't get to me, doesn't strike at the heart, because deep down I know sport is fundamentally pointless.

Some of my colleagues at work have sport empathy in spades. They know everything about horse racing, and intend to tell me all about it. They follow tennis, and expect I'm interested in every minor detail. They keep The Ashes ticking over in a box on the corner of their laptop, and "ooh" in my direction when a wicket falls. But most of all they know their football. First thing on a Monday morning they sit round and mull over the week's results, starting with the top teams then working down to their provincial favourites. They discuss which goal they liked best, which corner of the net it slotted into and the tactics leading up to the shot. They confess to watching Jeff Stelling in the pub, and Gary Lineker on Match of the Day ten hours later. They discuss their fantasy football teams in enormous depth, and how that Norwich assist cancelled out their Crystal Palace clean sheet, and how they might possibly tweak their line-up next weekend to score more points. I suspect that if football didn't exist, this bunch would have absolutely nothing in common to talk about. But instead it holds them strong and binds them together. I am so out of it.

And yet I've been an Arsenal supporter for over 40 years, ever since the 1971 Cup Final. On that fateful occasion I picked Arsenal and my brother picked Liverpool, and they lost and he cried, because even at a very early age my brother had sport empathy. Not me. I've carried on supporting Arsenal, to the point where it would feel incredibly wrong to support anyone else. But I've never felt the need to attend a match, or to wander the streets in a red and white bobble hat, or to take out a whopping subscription to Sky Sports. Indeed I can leave the house during an Arsenal game without ever checking the score on my phone, and I never spend the week before a derby match with butterflies. To me football is about each end result, you either win or you don't. And if you don't, never mind, there's always another day.

I know one place I'm going very wrong. I assume that sport only occurs while competition is taking place, but to the sportaholic that's not the case. They fill the long gaps inbetween matches with speculation, indeed that's the only way to fill the back pages of newspapers midweek. Who might sign who, whose injury might leave them out for how long, and how precisely might the next match play out? My boss is very good at this. He's forever trying to engage me in conversation about potential transfer deals, league positions and sprained ligaments, purely because I'm a fellow Arsenal supporter. I nod and grunt enough to appear vaguely knowledgeable, but I'm so not engaged, and I'm sure my lack of sport empathy shines through. I must be such a disappointment.

My mind just isn't wired the right way to get enthused by national sporting competition. It doesn't get swept along with the crowd, nor is it aroused by the collective achievements of others. Some days I think it would be nice to join in, but I don't have that option, the inner fire's not there. That may also explain why I never 'got' religion despite being exposed to quite a lot of it, and why I don't hold any political viewpoints with blind conviction. I can do interested, but I simply can't do passionate. So I don't share your glee in thrashing Spurs, I have no opinions on Podolski's hamstring, and I genuinely don't care what you thought about transfer deadline day.

Please don't think I'm being dismissive. If that's how you are, great. But I'm not that way at all. I have no sport empathy.


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