The England cricket team’s depressingly meek submission to Australia has made me face up to the realities of defeat. Now, being a lifelong Liverpool fan I am certainly no stranger to this. But to be mauled down-under in such comprehensive fashion is an extremely bitter pill to swallow. Obviously I still love the game of cricket and still love England, but a certain part of me also doesn’t want to experience in the intense pain of watching my team get completely outclassed by their closest rivals. I ashamed to say, that to deal with such a situation, I start caring less.
Human beings react to disappointment in different ways. Some vent their frustrations through anger and violence. Others prefer to internalise their discontent and I definitely fall into the latter category. No-one likes to lose, but supporters of sporting teams have the worst of it because they do not have any direct effect on the outcome of the contest, yet they care as much as (in some cases, more) than the competitors. For example, I could want Woking to beat Dartford in the Skrill Premier League more than anything in the world (and I do), yet I’m not directly involved in the contest so no matter how much I will them to win, they might lose. Equally I could be (and am) extraordinarily ambivalent towards the result of Burton v Newport but I will have as much influence on that result as Woking’s.
Herein lies the curse of the supporter. In any normal walk of life, if a human desires something, he/she will go to any lengths to get it. I desperately wish Liverpool would win the Premier League, but however hard I fervently crave this, there is no certainty it will happen. In fact (and this is the worst part) the more I care about Liverpool, the more painful each defeat feels. There is a certain helpless vulnerability which is almost unique to the sporting fan. Now I really like football, but I refuse to have my weekend defined by whether my team does well or not. That is a ridiculous way to live one’s life (especially if you are a supporter of a shit team, like Stoke or West Ham). Therefore my solution is to make myself care less about the results of my team and to temper my expectations (admittedly very difficult after Liverpool’s highly impressive start to the season). Granted, the high I experience after a victory will not be as intense given that I have made myself less emotional involved in the whole process, but more importantly, if (usually when) Liverpool suffer defeat, I do not go into a spiral of depression, lock myself in my room and cry for hours on end. My Spurs-supporting housemate recently returned home a couple of Sundays ago to find me grinning ear to ear, quizzing him incessantly on the 5-0 drubbing his team had received at the hands of the mighty Reds. He still hasn’t watched the highlights because if he doesn’t, it’s almost as if it didn’t really happen – therefore the defeat becomes less painful.
I have successfully used this tactic for Liverpool since their decline in season 2009/10. Instead of constantly checking my phone every 5 minutes for score updates, I would wait until I got home before finding out to whom the latest embarrassing defeat was. The key is to be in control of your football addiction. Let it control you and you are toast; quietly but firmly tell it who’s boss – and you will have a fruitful and happy relationship. This is how I am going to experience the rest of the Ashes series.
I started following the current series in such a manic, compulsive way, that people start to question your sanity (even more than they currently do). A friend and I watched the whole first day’s play (00:00-07:30 GMT) at Brisbane live on TV in the Lords Museum courtesy of winning a competition (if you go onto my twitter account there’s a particularly fetching picture of me celebrating a wicket and generally looking like a complete goon). That’s the sort of intense support that can, and eventually did lead to a rather sombre moment of reflection in my life where I sat myself down to consider what is really important. I decided that despite the comprehensive Brisbane defeat, England couldn’t possibly play as badly at Adelaide, and like the obedient puppy that I am, I duly tuned in to Test Match Special at midnight to follow England’s progress. When it became apparent that this performance was possibly worse than the Brisbane debacle, a deep cloud hung over me. I had sacrificed a considerable amount of my time (and sleep) to support my team, yet I was receiving absolutely no reward. I then had an Epiphany. Why should I continue to suffer the pain of listening to England be ritually humiliated when I could be living in the glorious bliss of ignorance? I could go to bed not listening to the cricket, wake up in the morning having slept soundly and check the score. Oh look, we’re still being tonked around Perth. Yes, I’m a little narked off but I’ve become more emotionally detached from the cricket so the pain of defeat is that much more bearable. I can breakfast in relative serenity. This is my secret to being an enduring sports fan: to deal with defeat with humour and apathy, not with anger and resentment.
I know deep down that I still care about the England cricket team and the results of Liverpool Football Club. I have supported them all my life and will continue to until the day I die. However, I have to convince myself that it is not one of the defining features of my life. For example, when meeting someone for the first time, I do not tend to introduce myself as “David de Winter; die-hard England cricket fan.” Most people would claim to have left the iron on/have a bus to catch/have a recently deceased relative and make a very speedy exit. Yes, I am a huge fan of cricket and regularly attend matches but if Surrey or England are losing, I still enjoy the spectacle. Its intrinsic beauty is the reason I love the sport. This does not stop because the result is contrary to my preference. Sport, when it comes down to it, is just a game. In the grand scheme of things, it does not matter. Life still goes on. I understand that what makes sport so great is the fact that it matters so much to so many people. That is what makes it such compelling viewing and why millions of people flock to stadia all around the world – to watch great contests between athletes at the peak of their powers. That is the beauty of sport.