It’s happening again. It’s the 89th minute, and Paul Caddis has just slotted home what will likely be the winning goal. The whole ground erupts, and my dad runs towards the nearest Nottingham Forest fans. He leaps down three flights of stairs to celebrate in front of them, leaking f-bombs and lager before he’s dragged back to his seat by a team of hi-vis jackets. Not that I was embarrassed. No, I was shouting him on, virtually baying for blood. Those same away fans had had the audacity to turn around and celebrate when their team equalized just five minutes before, and this felt like justice.
You see, my family is infected, and has been for over a century. We are doomed to have our happiness decided by the fortunes of Birmingham City Football Club. My day is made significantly better, or significantly worse, by how they get on. There’s no reason for it, and I know as well as anyone how insane it is. I’ve tried to rationalize it before, to tell myself that it’s just a sport that should have no ramifications for how my life goes as a whole. But it’s no good; I have the bug. When I see we’ve lost, the bottom comes out from my stomach and despair trails me for the day. If the game is a big one, I sometimes feel it for days, like a persistent hangover or chesty cough that digs in and makes routine tasks a little harder.
In everyday life, my dad is an upstanding member of the community. He pays his taxes, waves to the postman and has never been in any serious trouble with the law. He’s a respected professional who’s reflective, rational and politically engaged. Yet here he was virtually attacking a stranger because his football team had scored a goal. It wouldn’t be the first, or indeed the last time. Just a year before, he’d celebrated Nikola Å½igic’s winner literally in the face of a giant Villa fan, and would have had ten years knocked off him were it not the timely intervention of a few bystanders.
My uncle too, once had to write an apology note to former British tennis No. 2 Greg Rudeski, after he calling him a “traitorous cunt” in a pub in London when he celebrated a goal against England. He’s a retired civil servant, and now teaches guitar to children. I wonder if all the friends I made in my first weeks at uni would have still talked to me if they knew that in just ten months time I’d be sitting outside the JCR crying into my Beckham shirt as Luis Suarez sent England out of the World Cup. They certainly wouldn’t have guessed that someone who is usually introspective and left wing would get caught up in something so close to nationalist fervour.
For the layman, such passion about football can be perplexing. Among enlightened circles it is often seen as vulgar and crass. It is true that people in the frenzy of football have committed terrible crimes. Where such strong passions swirl, the wrong people easily harness them. For me now, it’s inescapable. I watch not because I find it interesting or enjoyable, but because I have a deep emotional investment. When I see a player on my team get sent off for the wrong reason, I’m not just annoyed because it goes against the rules of the game. I feel a genuine, intense sense of injustice. It’s the kind of feeling that makes my dad launch himself down the terraces at complete strangers, and my uncle verbally assault a tennis player. It’s never rational and often embarrassing.
Given the choice however, I could never sink back into the ranks of the casual spectator. There are some people that watch football for the spectacle, enjoying the wonder goals and great players. They can talk at length about who they think will win the league, or whether Messi is better than Ronaldo. But they’ll never feel real, seething anger at either. They’ll never be nine years old fi ghting back tears as Ronaldo gives his famous wink to the touchline, and for that reason they’ll always be missing something