For the Love of the Game!
As far back as I can remember I’ve loved football. As a child, it was playing Sunday League, Five a side, Headers and Volley’s and no matter the weather, I’d always take hours of pleasure practising Keepie Uppies in the garden. I’d play anytime and anywhere, all I needed was something to kick; whether that be a bottle, a balloon or if I was lucky a football. I was always happiest when I had the opportunity to play, in truth nothing else compared.
I vividly remember the anticipation when someone brought a new football into school and was treated like royalty for the day. Everyone would crowd around the ball like it was the Holy Grail, which would inevitably lead to the moment of ultimate fear. The critical point when the ball left the foot and it was smashed over an unscalable fence, for the very first time! But I should have feared not. We always planned and executed a military style operation to retrieve it back, usually coming back with extra balls (that were thought long lost) in the process.
At that time football was a game to be played. I’d watch my favourite players perform, then look to shape and mould my game on them the next day. I idolised players, wore them on my back, they were my heroes and that still transcends into the present day. You feel a connection with certain players, particularly those who play the game just like they would have done in a playground, with a smile on their face. It explains why I love Luis Suarez as a player. He optimises everything I adored in the heroes from my youth, players such as Robbie Fowler and Steven Gerrard. His passion and enthusiasm for me is unparalleled; he’s a reminder of why I fell in love with the game and you can feel how contagious that is on the pitch.
Fast forward into my teens and whilst I still loved playing, technology added a whole new dimension. The dawn of FIFA and Championship Manager was upon us. We’d evolved from supporters whose closest encounters with players, was collecting stickers in a Panini album. To managing the team you love, developing players, perfecting tactics and signing your favourite players from rival teams. It was a whole new experience and for many the start of their extra footballing education and expansion into what they feel it’s like to manage a football club.
Whilst I was starting to realise my dreams of becoming a professional player were fading; the thrill of beating my friends on FIFA 95 more than made up for it. The skills you failed to master in the playground, you could master in the game. The celebrations you never got to perform, you could reenact time and time again. For most current football supporters, these are the norm, the everyday. They’ve grown up with next generation games, the access to watch clips of their favourite players and virtually manage their favourite teams. At the time it was revolutionary and was the start where I slowly moved away from physically playing the game, to virtually playing it.
When I was younger football was my life, but as I got older the reasons why I adored the game began to fade. I developed a level of scepticism and doubt. Results rather than performances started to be more critical; whilst other influences such as music and film became more prominent and I fell out of love with football. In that time I’ve always supported Liverpool that’s never once wavered, but my passion for football dwindled. I’d forgotten how to enjoy the simplicity of the beautiful game!
As a supporter, you always dream of success. It’s the reward for years of willing, cheering, hoping and singing. For all of those arguments with rival supporters where you defended your team unequivocally, despite deep down knowing the limitations of your side. All too often growing up, Liverpool FC enjoyed little to no success. There were little pockets and some great times under Houllier, especially the treble. But it wasn’t until Benitez took over, that my love for football was fully reignited.
Football’s at its best when it takes you to that place of happiness, giving a reaffirming reminder of why you fell in love with the game. You need to feel a genuine connection and sometimes get lost in the match. That famous night in Istanbul was in truth, the best night of my life. I was in a bar surrounded by friends, most of which supported rival teams, but that mattered not. We all cheered every goal, danced, sung and literally made the place shake. It wasn’t just about the winning, it was about uniting, forming and developing of friendships. That night resonates with so many football supporters around the world. It’s the ultimate underdog story, it’s something that even the most talented script writers would struggle to capture. One truly incredible night and a memory I will never forget.
I highly respect those who can view the game through great tactical understanding and statistical analysis, but I like to judge what my eye and gut tells me. For me, the joy of football is in the simplicity and that can be lost in great detail. I want to enjoy a performance for what I’ve seen, celebrating the successes. Not over analyse the detail, so that it strips away many of the positives. The modern supporter has access to so much information that at times it can cloud judgements. If Social Media existed in its current form in 2005, I wonder how much time I’d have spent focused on my phone, rather than getting caught up in the moment; missing out on that roller coaster of emotions that made the victory quite so satisfying.
Football is a sport, which can unite like no other. It needs to be enjoyed with friends and fellow supporters. The passion and excitement it can give means very little, if you can’t share it with others. That’s why I crave a unified support, a fanbase who all want the same thing for my beloved club. 2013/14 showed how powerful Liverpool supporters can be. The anticipation of the next game was contagious; with combined hope, belief and passion so rarely seen in all my years as a fan. So despite criticism of the Anfield faithful and fanbase as a whole, we all showed that if they have something to become enthusiastic about, we can and will rally together.
Moving to the present day, I’m at a crossroads. The game to me hasn’t changed as much as some would you like you to believe, but the way I watch it has. My thought process has moved from a positive perspective, to one slightly more negative. I’ve haven’t lost my love of the game, more forgotten how to truly enjoy it. As my son is coming to an age where his natural introduction to football is developing, I see the enthusiasm he has for the simplicity of the game. He celebrates a goal, a victory without judgement.
Obviously I can’t change my mindset, it’s formed over my whole life as a football appreciator. I can however take heart and solace that all supporters start off on the same path. I can hope that as fanbase we have brighter times ahead, so that we have events to celebrate and memories to make. Crucially above all else, we all find that small part of happiness, that reminds us why we fell in love with the game in the first place.