June 12, 2011

Because it’s Just a Game

The first time someone asked me to write a column for PinoyFootball, all I could think of was, “What? Who? Me?”

I’m a big football fan, but I don’t feel as though I have a strong opinion about anything in football, except where the Azkals are concerned. What I do have, however, is an opinion about people whose opinions about football are so far off the field, you’re hoping Oliver Kahn will come around and kick them into next Tuesday.

I love football. I love how it unfolds, how it reveals the individual personalities of players, and how the team’s chorus of movement silences one in favor of the harmony of many.

I love how crowds – well-behaved ones, at least – run through an endless cycle of rising, pulsating, throbbing energy. I love how that energy gains body, in shouts, in cheers, in stomping and laughing and sobbing and crying.

World Cup 2006

My family and I toured Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic in 2006, during the time that Germany hosted the World Cup. Frankfurt Airport was filled with all sorts of football-related fun things. There were fusball tables in every corner. There were motion-tracking games projected on big screens to test players’ abilities in winning penalty kicks. Everyone lined up to play: children in summer shorts, businessmen in ties that they had to loosen so that they could make the best kicks of their lives, women who were as loud and proud and strong as everyone else.

We were also in Prague when the US played the Czech Republic. We rented an apartment close to the city square, where games were broadcast over a giant monitor, and where crowds were free to squeeze and shout. My family and I could barely hear the running commentary over the shouts in the square.

The football spirit was alive, well, kicking, and loud. It was not an annoying sort of loud, mind you. It was the kind of loudness that you crave when you know that there are no other football fans about.

My First Brush with Annoyance

It’s that kind of rambunctious roaring that I like. What I despise, however, is when the loudness and energy translate into snobbery – and when that snobbery takes over people’s lives. Fanaticism, at least according to me, can be extremely annoying and irritating. And it’s not the kind of annoyance and irritation you get when you have an itch that you need to scratch, but can’t reach.

I’m talking annoyance and irritation where you actually want to call the DFB’s best goalkeepers over so that you can watch them kick idiots into goalposts. Yes, you heard me right: not into the cradle of the net, but the hard, stinging metal of a goalpost just waiting to receive a bouncing ball.

I got my first taste of this annoyance when I walked the streets of Prague following the USA vs. Czech Republic game. The U.S. had just lost the game to the Czech Republic. There was a party blooming in every corner whenever someone started shouting cheers for the winners. It was difficult to find a restaurant that wasn’t filled with people chanting, drinking themselves senseless, or just drunk on adrenaline.

My family and I finally found a restaurant, where we seated ourselves next to a young couple from the U.S. All was well for a few minutes, until a half-drunk Czech man came up to the couple’s table, burped, belched, and slurred out, “You lost! The USA lost! YEAH!!!”

The American couple simply looked back at him. The woman said something to the effect of, “Ok. Sure. Yeah,” as though it didn’t matter who won or lost.

The Czech man would not relent. “No, we won!” He slurred, belched, burped. It was a pathetic show of sore winner-dom from start to finish. When the couple refused to buy his brand of football, he staggered out of the restaurant.

The couple returned to looking at the menu, as though the whole incident were a stray gadfly to their ears: small, annoying, but inconsequential.

And Now, for Some Ranting…

From that moment on, extreme, irrational fanaticism of any sort annoyed my patience to smithereens. If you need to sell your triumph to me, then it gets annoying. If you need to scream about football in my face, then it gets annoying. If you can find time for anything football-related, but have no time for friends and family, then it gets annoying.

In short: if you have all the time for football, but no time for real life, then I hope you get kicked back into reality soon enough, or I’ll kick you myself.

And you know what? Winning or losing? Honestly? It didn’t matter then, in Prague. Really. IT DID NOT MATTER. Let’s change tenses now: IT DOES NOT MATTER. Now, let’s add periods for emphasis, even if it’s grammatically unacceptable. IT. DOES. NOT. MATTER.

I’ll get flak for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway. IT’S JUST A GAME.

Yes, Really: It’s Just a Game

It’s just a game. Don’t bring violence or racism into it. Don’t turn football into a proxy for your beliefs. Sure, there’s a sociological term for using sports as a way to relieve the inner turmoil that the outer world cannot tolerate. You don’t have to define the term; you don’t have to give it body.

It’s just a game. Don’t shout about it in my face, and stop selling it to me. I get it. You like football. You love it. You breathe it. You eat it for breakfast, snarf it down for lunch, and gobble it all up for dinner. You don’t have to keep on telling me about it. The minute you keep on yakking on and on about it, you start looking pathetic.

It’s just a game. You’re not the football capital of anywhere. You’re not the only one who has the right to enjoy a live game. Save your energy for the time when you need to support and cheer for the Azkals NO MATTER WHERE IN THE WORLD THEY’RE PLAYING. We have to unite behind the Azkals. Your whining doesn’t make your province the better location for the game, and it doesn’t build your case. It actually makes you sound desperate.

Oh, and guess what? I’m actually Ilonggo. I don’t want a war between or among provinces. I want to watch a game and not have to fight about where it should be (or should have been) held. I’ve got millions of things to do, and I don’t want to waste my time.

It’s just a game. Don’t sacrifice your job, your relationships, or your family. Don’t kick yourself out of reality, and don’t kick anything or anyone out of your life.

The Triumph of the Serene

Does this sound like an acerbic diatribe yet? Are you cringing, wanting to choke me, hoping to find me and run me over with an 18-wheeler truck? Allow me to illustrate my point and hear me out first.

Sometimes, it’s the quiet people who win the day. It’s the quiet person in the corner who draws people in, not the noisy center of attention who is all flash, no substance. It’s the humble, nervous singer who comes on stage to wow the crowd, not the loud contestant who talks a mile a minute about how easy singing is. It’s the politician who gets down on hands and knees to help people, and doesn’t bother with the fancy speeches – it’s that kind of politician that makes a difference, that is a statesman, and not some public speaker who is all talk, no contribution.

It’s the quietly obsessed, but balanced people who often win me over. I’ve met fans, from the most rabid to the most silent. The noise of a crowd makes me smile; the noise of one person can only go so far. Sometimes, it’s the quiet, the humble that draw me in, that intrigue me, that make me want to know more.

The key word is BALANCE.

And yes, that’s how you enjoy a game: when you sit, watch, and observe. Sure, you can scream all you want, but your actions prove how much you love the game. You have nothing to prove; you don’t have to knock everyone else so that you can look better.

When you can’t stop talking about how much better you are than everybody else at being a fan, then I start doubting you. When you simply cheer for the Azkals, then I’m grateful. That kind of support makes you a fan.

Let’s Enjoy This Together!

So yes, I shall say it again: It’s just a game. Enjoy it. Enjoy it with the rest of the world. Don’t push an agenda, and don’t use the game to push an agenda. The football pitch is a great equalizer. Let the game equalize us all to the point where we simply enjoy it without having to go through a pissing contest to see who gets the #1 Fan Award.

And yes, let’s save our energy for the Azkals. They need our cheers, not infighting. They need a solid audience behind them, not fans squabbling for recognition. The shouts will be louder, the screams will be definite, and the support will be real.

The fanaticism will be real, and fruitful.

Now let’s go watch a great game!

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