Spectator sport is wonderful. It can cause great highs and great lows, and usually does both in the space of 90 minutes. Most sports, the good ones, aren’t scripted – no-one should know what is happening at any point, sport is technical and it is skilled. To succeed in sport you need confidence, ability, concentration and dedication – the last one becomes important when watching it too. I don’t support teams that dominate their sports, at least not in this era, which means that the lows happen more often than the highs – and that sentence would imply that watching sport does indeed defy logic. But is it as simple as that? I want to explain to you in this article how I felt when my favourite sporting moments happened, and relate them to how I felt when the lows happen.
Let’s start with Everton, as the highs and lows with Everton happen more frequently – something called the Everton Way (which I wrote a blog about here: http://weonlysingwhenwerewinning.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/the-everton-way/). After watching us lose 3-0 to Wigan at Goodison in an FA Cup quarter final I never wanted to return to Goodison, I never wanted to see them again. I pay good money to go watch Everton play, both for my season ticket and train travel from Nottingham and none of it felt worth it then. A week later, I had returned and that day we outplayed and beat the champions of England. That time I wanted to be at Goodison every day and I would realistically pay as much money as I needed to just to watch Everton play. That in itself can be construed as fickle and it probably is yet it’s the beauty of sport. The greatest Everton moment in my life came when we got to the FA Cup final in 2009. I woke up early that day, as early as I had on my birthday or Christmas as a youngster, simply because I was unbelievably excited. We had beaten Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United on the way to the final, I was wearing my new shirt (with Pienaar on the back) and I was so hopeful that we wouldn’t disappoint. No football match has ever affected me emotionally as much as that one did. Taking the lead after 30 seconds seemed too perfect and so it proved when Drogba and Lampard scored for Chelsea either side of the half time interval. That night was a sad one for me, the disappointment after losses like that is as great an emotion as the hope before it was.
Another day waking up early to watch sport came on the 15th September 2011. This time it was county cricket and Lancashire were potentially one day away from winning our first outright Championship title since 1934. Realistically however, it was never going to happen – we had to beat Somerset at Taunton, a ground famous for producing draws, and hope that an already relegated Hampshire dug deep and batted the day against a rampant Warwickshire. There wasn’t much hope that morning if I’m honest, but by lunch it was more promising. Carberry was producing heroics for Hampshire and we were doing what we had to down in Somerset. By tea that tiny speck of hope was growing, Hampshire were doing more than I had expected but our relentless surge towards victory had been slightly halted. Gary Keedy then produced a wonderful piece of fielding to run out Somerset’s last batsmen, possibly his only run out in his long career at Lancashire, and we needed 211 runs to win that match. At some point Sky changed their coverage to our match and we watched as Horton, Moore, Brown and Croft led us to a famous victory which coupled with Hampshire’s continued resistance against Warwickshire meant we won the title. I’ll never forget the pure joy I felt when we won that. I wasn’t there but it felt like I was, I can’t begin to imagine what the players were going through. As defending champions, we suffered relegation. There were a few reasons behind this, the weather, a fragile batting line up and bowlers not taking as many wickets as they had done the season before but none of that made the feeling any easier. When your team gets relegated, it is one of the worst feelings you will ever endure. In most scenarios in life, these feelings are usually followed by not repeating that incident ever again, for example if you are in a relationship where every day feels like a drag then you shouldn’t carry it on much longer so you feel better. However, sport is different. If you are a true fan, once you get attached to a team or person then you can’t just stop this. Sure, you can protest against something you don’t like but that is different. The point I’m trying to make is this: when we got relegated, no part of me ever wanted to stop following Lancashire and no part of me ever considered not watching them again. That in itself appears to defy logic.
I could carry on with more examples (specifically Jenson Button’s world championship in 2009 compared to his struggles now and, my favourite sporting moment, Andy Murray’s US Open win compared to the many near misses) but I don’t want to bore you (plus I hopefully will write a blog detailing my favourite sporting moments to date at some point) so is there another side to this? One way to look at it is biologically. Endorphins released when you experience highs physically outweigh the emotional response you feel when a low happens. This is to say that you feel happier and these feelings last longer when good things happen as opposed to the sadness felt when low. I’m not a biologist, nor am I a psychologist and I don’t know the proper explanation for this but I can give you my take on it. In my view, our bodies and minds are tuned to believe that raw, absolute emotions are a drug. We feed off both great happiness and immense sadness which produces various emotional responses. My belief is that sport can produce the happiness needed for these emotional responses to occur but not total sadness. I believe that losses in sport are precisely just that, and every vaguely emotionally secure and rational person can understand that most sport teams and people lose at some point. However, victories take on a new level possibly because wins justify faith, they justify the belief that all the pain was worth it.
So then, does continuing to watch sport defy logic? If you are reading this as someone who doesn’t like or “get” sport then you will probably think so. Why would you put yourself through such pain if the nice moments are few and far between? But to sport lovers, it just isn’t that simple. I almost feel sorry for people who don’t like sport simply because they don’t feel the high you get when your team or player wins a big game. Part of the reason betting exists and thrives in sport is due to this emotional response to victories. I guess what I’ve been trying to say all along is that rationally, it isn’t logical to continue watching but emotionally it is perfectly natural. This extends to continuing watching if things aren’t going the way you want them to. On many a occasion I could have left Goodison or turned the TV off because we were losing yet I haven’t done it much because any sport (but especially Tennis and Cricket) has a funny way of turning instantly and the hope that it might keeps you watching, the same way that the fear it will change when going well grips you. I never once lost hope that one day Andy Murray would win a grand slam and that belief meant that when he did, the feeling was immense. Sport is painful, sport is unforgiving but sport is also a healer, sport is brilliant.