Losing: A Calcio Fans Perspective
Being a fan often feels like the most helpless position in the sports world. You’re at the mercy of your club, which you get no control over. If your team wins, you feel great all day, all week, or if it’s the big one, all year. If they lose a game, no matter how significant, you’re reminded of every single decision that ever went against you, your club, your family, or even the people you’ve met. The color drains from the room.
Being a fan has it’s highs, like any part of life, but the lows in sport can be particularly low. Sure life takes precedence, but nothing can come and put you in the wrong frame of mind like watching your team squander a lead they should have held.
The worst moment is the moment the inevitability of the loss hits you. It’s that moment when that last ray of hope has been crowded out by the clouds. That’s the moment you really die inside, not the moment when it’s actually over. The final whistle confirms what you’ve known.
It’s the ball rolling over the line in the 83rd minute that stabs you (or brings you to new heights if you’re on the other end). You know what’s coming. It’s the unrelenting possession by the opposition has in the closing minutes that wriggles the knife around inside you. By the time the actual whistle comes, you’re long gone, already detached from the emotional moment in the best way you possibly can. Sure it might not technically be over, but…it is over.
That feeling isn’t exclusive to losses. Any football fan can tell you a draw can be as painful as a loss.
There’s unfortunately nothing but time to make the pain go away. Time doesn’t even help right away. Losses are mental events as well as being physical representations of sport. Since we as fans aren’t able to affect the outcome in any way, we often project our anger at the players who could have (so we think), but didn’t do enough to prevent the result. At no point is the analysis of the team/situation deeper than after a loss.
The stages of grief may not be conclusive psychological fact, however, I’ve noted their applicability to my own little corner of the fan world. The first thing stage of grief is denial. This usually comes combined with the second stage, anger. After even an undeserved draw, I’ll spill out a profane-laden tirade against any and all players at fault and if I’m feeling particularly aggrieved (since they failed to win without considering how it might affect my day) Milan for not doing more in the previous transfer window to prevent this. Sometimes I’ll burn my rage out in fifteen-seconds. Sometimes, like after the Fiorentina loss, it will take a few days (read: weeks) to deconstruct all the anger.
The third stage of grief is bargaining and I embody this in the form of excessive referee criticism. “If that blind referee had only ______ then I wouldn’t be sitting here dealing with a (second) draw to Bologna.” Another classic referee criticism, “If the offsides had been called as it should have, and the referees weren’t in Inter’s (or insert heated rival team) pocket then…”
Once I’ve finished my rant on the incompetence of the referee and while contemplating growing out my depression-beard, I frequently finding myself saying, “Well it doesn’t matter anyway, as long as the referees are going to ignore obvious calls,” which inevitably leads me into a “..the only calls these guys aren’t ignoring are the ones from Moratti!” The anger is still there, but I’m now in the self-conscious phase where I’ve had the realization all over again that I am utterly helpless. It’s this time when you really notice how little control you have over your club’s fortunes, “Did I really have to waste an hour and a half to just watch them concede in the last 30 seconds?”
I usually take a break from my team as this phase sets in. This phase usually deteriorates into the “depression / screw it” phase. For a certain team, this may come in the form of the classic “silenzio stampa”. As a fan, I take my a personal silenzio stampa from Twitter and try to find something else to distract me. We fans follow the depression phase with a period of withdrawal from football altogether.
Years later (or so it feels, in reality it’s hours or days later) I’m feeling better. I’ve once again found my place as an observer, and one who has no control. No one likes giving up control, but that’s precisely what you must do in order to support a club (unless you own the club — looking at you Silvio). Acceptance is the last stage of grief. Yes, my team hasn’t done what it should. But you know what, we’ve had other years. We’ve had other titles, and we will have ones in the future. The acceptance phase is the most clear-headed of all of these stages. After the detachment from the situation itself, and that awareness of the longevity of sport, the fact this year, no matter how bad, is not the end (even if it is the end of a cycle).
The beauty of football is that the lows exist. Think about that for a moment. It’s like the saying “live every day like your last”; if every day is lived like your last, then isn’t every day the same? If every day is a win do you really feel the same after each match? Losing is the part of the game that no one likes experiencing. But like drinking medicine, losing provides the prospective that often is missing from a win. So just think of it as drinking cough syrup next time you have that feeling in your stomach. It might taste horrible, but the taste will pass.
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This article was written by Pete Acquaviva