Monday, 2 June 2014

No room for sentiment in football?

One of the great lies of the footballing world is that there is 'no room for sentiment in football'. This paints football as some cold-blooded culture where only two things matter: the bottom line and the result on the scoreboard. Indeed, in the bizarre world of some fans, it is only the former that matters. These people should be avoided at all costs.

Of course, football is a results business but focusing solely on results misses the point of the game and misses the point of being a fan of the game.

If it was only winning that mattered we'd all be fans of whoever had just won the league. We would be those unholy cretins who change team at the drop of the hat. We would, God help us all, have to - on occasion - support Manchester United.

Most teams, by definition, are serially unsuccessful. There can only be one winner of the league, one of the FA Cup, one of the Champions League and so forth. Why do those of us who support one of the other teams in the league do so? Because we always have done? Sure but also because in supporting them for a long time we have formed a largely unbreakable bond with the team - we love them when they win but, tellingly, we love them when someone else wins as well. Indeed, the winning is so sweet because we've experienced the other times.


Sentiment rears its head all over the place in the game. It is just something we choose to ignore.

Hell, one of the greats even admitted it! Ferguson famously said he'd select Scholes on sentiment in 2008.  It happens all the time: players who have suffered consistent injuries getting a run out to ensure a medal. Players being substituted so that they can get a standing ovation or getting a run-out for the same reasons.

Think about players choosing - to the fury of some and the delight of others - not to celebrate against a former club. Think about fans singing to their former manager or a former player returning to their club as an opponent (as Liverpool fans did to Rafa Benitez and Stoke fans did to Tony Pulis).  Think about how fans feel when one of their players - particularly a born and bred player - makes the national team. Think about how fans crow about a player shine they saw shine after the left the club. Don't believe me? Look at how Liverpool fans talk about Xabi Alonso, Tottenham fans talk about Bale and Manchester United fans talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. The bond between fan and player doesn't always sever when the contract is ripped up.
We often appreciate players who aren't the best player in the team (and we appreciate them more than the best player in the team). This may be because they are local boys done good. They may be fans of the club. They may be cult heroes. They may have performed some act of derring do in a previous season which means, forever more, they will not need to buy a drink when a fan of their club is at hand. It means that we appreciate the tall tales, stories and myths that surround a club. That is, after all, what football is about. It means that something other than the bottom line and the result on the scoreboard matter. 

Sometimes some goals, and their scorers, mean more than others. I have rarely been as happy for a Liverpool player to score as I was when Robbie Fowler scored on his return to Anfield. Many fans (though certainly not all) around the country who were not Liverpool fans wanted the Reds to win the league over City or Chelsea because they thought Gerrard should get his hands on a medal. For what it is worth I wanted, for probably the first time in my life, Ryan Giggs to score in that final game of his.

Far from having no room for sentiment in football for most fans sentiment is the reason they love the game. It isn't always about the winning - though winning is nice - but it is about the supporting. Without sentiment, football would be a boring old bugger and we'd all be doing something else on a Saturday afternoon.

Which brings me to Rickie Lambert. In Lambert, Liverpool have bought a player who has scored goals in the top division, created many chances and manages to both fit into the system the club plays whilst also offering them different options. In Lambert they have bought an England international for £4.5m. But, in Lambert, they have shown that sometimes sentiment and football can go hand in hand. That business sense can combine with the sort of story that makes the heart sing and makes you realise why football is more than just about millionaires kicking a ball up and down the pitch.

I'd have been happy enough with the signing if Lambert had been a Cockney boy who supported Arsenal all his life because the deal makes sense on a footballing level - a talented player who adds to the squad, is English, costs not very much and has performed in the league.

As it is, he is a Liverpool boy and Liverpool fan - released by the club as a teenager - who has found his way back to the club after a trek around the divisions. He will make his debut (aged 32) after playing at a World Cup. If that isn't the sort of thing that makes you, as a football fan (regardless of team), feel a little bit better about life and th game then I'm really not sure football is for you.

RCM

12 comments:

dearieme said...

Will Arsenal buy Cesc? I've read that for purposes of some regulation or other he counts as local, have started young at Highbury. He'll have that advantage too for the other clubs I imagine. (I suppose the subtle thing to do is for Arsenal to sign him for a bargain price and sell a couple of their older midfielders. Or lend them out on the usual terms of not being allowed to play against The Gooners. QPR? Southampton?)

Rob Marrs said...

They could do a lot worse than him but I'm not sure how he, Ozil, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla and Oxlade Chamberlain all fit into the same team without putting noses out of joint.

RCM

dearieme said...

4-2-3-1

xxxx; Wilshere, Ramsey; Cazorla, Ozil, Ox; M. Tresfatigue.

But no room for Young Theo, which must be wrong. Unless he replaces M. T

Nope, they'd have to sell/lend a few; and even then the "2" looks a bit of a waste of the talents of Ramsey.

On the other hand Wilshere will soon be injured again. A couple more injuries, a couple of cup runs, and people would be complaining that Cesc was missed at "only" the £25M of the buy-back clause. In fact that clause sounds so good that maybe they should buy him now and sell him to Chelsea or ManU in August? Now that would be a case of No Sentiment in Football.

dearieme said...

It occurs to me that if Soton want too much for Lalala, Liverpool should try driving down the price Barca want for Cesc. Could Cesc be a long term replacement for Gerrard? Or would this chap be better yet?
http://www.statsbomb.com/2014/06/xherdan-shaqiri-vs-adam-lallana-a-liverpool-joint/

dearieme said...

But Torres might warn him "Don't go there it's a terrible dump". Sentiment in football?

dearieme said...

Sentiment: keep the Ox.
Hard-headedness - send the poor lad home and add Stones to the squad. There's still a week to decide, mind.

dearieme said...

Presumably the game vs Italy may be so draining that lots of players might need to be rested for the Uruguay game. Or if they are not, you might need to play a Second XI vs Costa Rico. Then you don't want a passenger in the squad. The poor chap might not be fit until England are out of the competition.

The squad is already carrying Lampard, Smalling and Wilshere - an injured Ox might be a bridge too far.

dearieme said...

(i) Most amusing that the best thing Wellbeck did was not touch the ball.

(ii) If Hodgson insists on fielding Rooney it had better be at right back.

dearieme said...

Said Hodgson: "We thought we'd try him at right back because he's a right berk".

Some people say that Rooney turns so slowly that he's like an oil tanker but I say he's like an ore carrier. Woof, woof.

dearieme said...

Allow me to say something kind about a bloke on the telly. I thought Hoddle was very good value last night. I've always liked Dixon. Pity about Wright and the absurd Andy "those little balls into those little areas" Townsend.

Frederick Martinez said...

Hi,

Thanks for the post about World Cup. Just a tip about those who don't live in countries that stream world cup online. You can use UnoTelly to remove the geoblock and stream World Cup 2014 in your country free worldcup.unotelly.com

dearieme said...

102Haughty Don Divers 1 Dirty Dutch Cloggers 5.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.