Friday 6 December 2019

Feelings don't get more primal than men's emotion about football

The establishment has decreed that men's emotions are somehow the wrong emotions

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

AS THE game between Liverpool and Crystal Palace ended on Monday night, my friend and I sat there gazing vacantly at the screen, trying to absorb the enormity of the tragedy that we had witnessed, the loss of a three-goal lead which essentially destroyed Liverpool's otherwise marvellous quest for the Barclay's Premier League.

We had watched many of these Liverpool games at my place, so that it had become an intrinsic part of the title challenge in itself, a form of ju-ju. And while all our experience at the highest level of the game had told us that it could end badly, and had prepared us for that, we never quite suspected that it could end this badly.

No words were spoken for a while, there was nothing that could possibly be said by either of us that would encapsulate the scale of our suffering.

Eventually, with a considerable effort of will, my friend slowly rose to his feet, and he put it like this: "I am going home," he said, "to watch Game of Thrones."

In that simple and dignified statement, much was unspoken. There was the declared intention (which we both knew would not become a lasting reality) to stop supporting a football team and to devote himself to the embrace of mere TV drama, and other forms of light entertainment, which, though they may be pre-packaged and ultimately banal, will never break your heart the way that football does.

On the screen, there were now images of players weeping, and fans weeping. And they say that men are not in touch with their emotions.

I should add that my friend holds a highly responsible position in the retail sector, and yet in all likelihood at no stage even during the harshest periods of the recession would he have felt as low as he did last Monday night.

His heart was low, his heart was so low, as only a man's heart can be, when he has watched the lads throwing away a three-goal lead in the last 15 minutes, with the title on the line.

Ah, but it's not the same, they say, as actual grief. I mean, if you went to a counsellor or you appeared on the Late Late Show and they asked you how you were feeling, you could hardly say that, actually, you've got the blues so bad because of a football match. Or at least you couldn't say it with a straight face, and mean it.

You could say that you're feeling a bit down for all sorts of other reasons ranging from the lack of sunlight to the fact that you can't get broadband, and you will receive a sympathetic hearing. But if you say you're struggling with the final outcome of the Premier League, you know you will receive something considerably less than that – a kind of an amused response, which recognises that you may have a problem, but which will attribute it to something else, something deeper.

And yet surely the reason that men are openly weeping in such situations, is that these things go very deep indeed? That we are in the presence here of primal energies, best expressed in a saying that they have in Argentina, that there are two things in life you cannot change, your mother and your team?

Moreover, I place these matters before you today, mainly because I never see them discussed in a satisfactory way by the official arbiters of our mental and emotional health. I only hear them complaining that men have no access to their emotions, apparently blind to the fact that men do indeed have plenty of access to their emotions, it's just that the establishment has decreed that those are somehow the wrong emotions. That on the snooker table of human feelings, we are talking here about the ball of the least value, not just a red ball, but one that is hanging over the edge of the pocket, the most facile of pots for which no player, however incompetent or even drunk, should receive any acknowledgement.

While we are counselled against the habit of "rationalising" our feelings, in this area, the official approach is to rationalise away, somewhat in the manner of Jeeves saying to Wooster: "I wonder if I might draw your attention to an observation of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius? He said 'does anything befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web'."

Responding, Wooster gets it right.

"He said that, did he?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, you can tell him from me he's a ass."

Oddly enough, if Luis Suarez had been pictured coming out of the cinema weeping after a showing of say, Love Actually, he would probably have been hailed as quite an advanced fellow, unafraid to show his "feminine" side, to throw himself into some sentimental old movie. But to be inconsolable after a devastating defeat? Sorry, Mr Suarez, there are people in the world with genuine problems.

One of them indeed will be coming over to my place again this afternoon, to witness the last doings of this Premier League. I could ask him how that Game of Thrones thing is going.

But really there is no need for that.

Sunday Independent

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