While the series of four Real Madrid – Barcelona matches over the past month failed to produce the best football, they did inspire a couple great articles about the nature of being a fan.
Brian Phillips’s article about soccer and anger gets into the subject if hyperpartisanship and fan irrationality when things turn out differently than desired*—specifically the sense of injustice and rage that occurs in people when their soccer teams lose.
*In their case, when things turn out differently than how they’re supposed to turn out.
The article is soccer-focused but really applies to any arena where beliefs run counter to the actual real-world results. When people believe in one outcome and then the result is something different, there’s always a sense of anger, injustice, and persecution.
For my part, while fan is short for fanatic, I try to avoid being fanatical in my fandom. Some of this may be do to my upbringing as a baseball fan. As stated in a previous post.
Baseball, in particular, due to its sheer quantity of games and the fact that the best teams only win 60% of the time forced me down the path of appreciating the quality of play rather than the result. You can’t be overly invested in the result of a ballgame when you attend. So instead you hope to see a good game and learn how to appreciate those games when you get them.
A baseball fan cannot afford to invest the amount of effort required to be a true fanatic. Each loss cannot be an injustice. At the very least, baseball fans can only become irrational during the playoffs and even there, in a best-of-seven series, it’s hard to let belief trump fact.
It’s when each game becomes more important that the temptation towards hyperpartisanship grows. Smaller regular seasons increase the importance of each game. As does competitive imbalance. And knock-out competitions are naturally the extreme case.
I do not find it surprising that the most irrational fans are those of teams which are favored in the Champions League. As Barcelona and Madrid are also engaged in a two-horse race for La Liga, it should have been obvious that a four-game series encompassing 3 knockout games and league match resulted in both teams and fans complaining about perceived injustices and filing complaints.
All of which makes me impressed with Kevin Williams’s explicitly calling out his (and my) club over its silence in the face of allegations of rascist actions by one of its players. In a hyperpartisan atmosphere, it’s often difficult to take the high road and criticize your own team. Heck, it’s hard to do in general regardless of the atmosphere.
Yet it’s possibly the most important part of being a true fan. While the hyperpartisans tend to attack anyone who attacks their team, it’s only when a teams own fans speak out that that team will be truly forced to take notice.
From Brian Phillips:
The sole and entire point of sports is to enjoy sports; even if you think athletic competition has a deeper purpose, that it helps with moral instruction or enforcing community ties or whatever else, it’s only able to serve that purpose because it’s fun in the first place.
From Kevin Williams:
I first signed up for my soci card because I had faith in FC Barcelona as an institution as much as a sporting enterprise. That made it worth being a soci even if I never got to take advantage of any of the benefits of membership. Its exploits brought me joy on the pitch, and I could explain to people what this MES business was and meant, and also feel joy.
It’s really hard to enjoy sports if you’re always angry. Or if you’re embarrassed at being associated with the other supporters of your team. Or if you’re embarrassed by the behavior of your team. And it’s typically the off-field stuff which truly ruins the enjoyment of the game. I’m perfectly happy with teams that suck because I end up savoring wins that much more when they are rare.