Thursday, 28 June 2012

What is football? (Euro 2012 Portugal v Spain)



There are many ways to enjoy football and all of them are as valid as the other. I personally watch football in the knowledge that for at least ninety percent of the game, not much is going to happen. I spend my time waiting for somebody to do something cool: a goal, a shimmy, a burst of pace, a crunching tackle, a brilliant save, a breathtaking pass or a combination involving four players and so on.

If watching football was looking at the naked night sky, I look for the pinpricks of light. Others, prefer to examine the space between the light. They look for meaning, for patterns and movement. Some define a good game of football by the amount of goalmouth action, intensity of play, the importance of the fixture the technical skill and of course the tactics. Some like tiki-taka while others prefer big diags. Some see football as a narrative while others see it as a bunch of stuff that happens. Some see football as all of those things and some as none. Most, I suspect, see football as a way of relaxing after a hard day at work.

Football, as we have been told from an early age, is a game of opinions and it is this glorious plurality that makes it the compelling spectacle that it is, whether you happen to be enjoying it or not.

The Euro 2012 semi final between Spain and Portugal was a near perfect example of how brilliant and how rubbish football can be, depending entirely upon your point of view. If you like your football to be all action then you may well have found the game boring. If you’re fascinated by the tactics, technique and fluidity of two top class teams then it was a modern classic. If you’re watching a game on the telly and waiting for something cool to happen then you were probably wishing you could change channel while knowing deep down that you can’t. This perhaps is where boredom becomes confused with waiting. They occupy a lot of the same space on their venn diagram but they are two separate states of mind.

Of course, if you’re watching a game live or with a crowd then the dynamic is different, still. Had I taken a detour after work and watched the game in one of the many Portuguese bars in South East London, my experience would have been entirely different. The partisanship of the crowd would have forced me to engage on an emotional level that sitting on my sofa (where I actually watched the game) would never have been achieved. Had I actually been at the game then I may well have left thinking I’d seen a classic, dramatic all or nothing semi final.

So football is not just about plurality but perceptions, sensations and importance. A game can be good or bad for exactly the same reasons or based entirely on how your watch it and upon what state of mind you happen to be in at the time. So the next time someone who disagrees with you about the quality of a match and says that they “can’t believe you were watching the same game”, tell them you weren’t. That should shut them up... for about five seconds.