I know nothing about football. While my friends splashed out on lion-embroidered shirts ahead of the Euros, I wore my indifference to the sport like a badge of honour.
I spent most of June sprawled out in the sun, half rolling my eyes as cries of frustration and glee leaked out from various living room windows. I could not understand why anyone would choose to crouch inside in front of a screen to watch others run around in the sun. As the nights drew on, I would sit and eat my dinner in front of the evening matches; more interested in the food on my plate than in the players on the screen.
Over the weeks, I learned that football matches are very long affairs. Viewers can expect to spend around forty-three minutes of a game just waiting for something to happen. Players casually pass the ball back and forth, conserving their energy until the opportune moment to sprint and score arises. I learned that it is always a good idea to have something else on the go when watching a football match – be it a novel, a piece of knitting, or an afternoon nap – something is needed to fill in the many minutes of mundane anticipation.
Roughly forty-three minutes of a football match are dedicated to the players’ extra-curricular skills and interests. Footballers grow bored of using their feet to pass a ball back and forth between them and consequently devote much of their time on the pitch to amateur wrestling, allowing matches to descend into shin-kicking, shirt-snatching, and head-butting exhibitions. In light of this, the football pitch becomes an amazing space for other players to showcase their theatrical talents.
Most matches are packed with slow-motion sequences of players flopping dramatically to the floor – brows creased in phantom pain, mouths screaming silently – having brushed too close to one of their opponents. Medics will rush onto the pitch, arms will wave around frantically; for a few minutes, the game of football will resemble a Game of Thrones battle scene. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, however, the referee will force the match to resume and the wounded player will leap miraculously to their feet with the air of a toddler realising that their parents aren’t going to make a fuss of their fall.
Around four of a football match’s ninety minutes are dedicated to goal scoring and can consequently be deemed worth watching. A few weeks ago I voiced this opinion out loud. ‘Why don’t you just watch the highlights?’, I asked my house mates, ‘Surely the goals are the only bits you need to see?’ They responded in a series of deep sighs. Clearly, there is something about football that I just don’t understand.
For me, football just does not matter. It bears no significance on my life. For years I’ve felt this to be a point of personal preference. On Sunday I learned that my indifference to the game is more than that: it is an indication of my privilege as a sheltered white woman.
I tuned in to Sunday’s final with the begrudging air of someone tuning into the series final of a drama they have followed but detested. Unlike most of the game’s 31 million British viewers, I found myself utterly indifferent to the match’s outcome: as a Welsh national I was mildly hostile to the idea of an English win; as the friend of a number of England supporters, I longed for the result that would make their nights.
For me, England’s loss sparked little more than a shrug. I set off to bed, happy in the knowledge that football mania would soon be set to sleep for another year. I never dreamed that for millions of people across the country – including thousands who are as indifferent to the sport as I am – England’s defeat would lead to a restless night.
Cocooned in my duvet, safe in the warmth of my white privilege, it did not occur to me that my non-white friends would spend the evening of the eleventh in a panic; that, for them, the journey from screen to bed would become a race against racial abuse; a dash home to escape hate crimes. It did not occur to me that hundreds of women would spend the night crouched in fear and curled in pain; that their bodies would become punching bags for enraged and intoxicated abusers.
I do not care about football because I’ve never had to. On Monday, I learned that my indifference to the sport was a token of my ignorance and innocence rather than a quirk in my character. Over the past few days, I’ve come to realise that football is something that cannot be dismissed – it is too reflective of how we live in this country. Fundamentally, football teaches its players how to win and how to lose; when to be patient and when to push; when to argue and when to progress; how to work as a team. Too many of the sport’s British spectators have failed to learn these lessons. They do not know how to lose, they do not allow for progression, they refuse to see society as a team.
I may know nothing about the sport these people claim to love, but I’m learning lessons from football that too many of its UK fans refuse to see.
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