When do you go home?

15 09 2010

Making a decision about when you should leave a football match seems to be easy. It’s an easy decision because of two simple facts.  1) Matches last 90 minutes, with a 15 minute break. 2) Everybody knows when they start. Therefore most people would realise when they need to go home. (Regular match goers gain an instinctive feel for the passage of time, they just know when the action is nearing its end.) But football matches are not equations, they involve emotions and emotions cloud logic, even the Jet Set has been reduced to a confused state.  

Generally speaking there seem to be three main choices asto when you leave a match; You can go before the crowds, you can go with the crowds, or you can go after the crowds. The choice made can highlight personality traits.  

The EARLY RISER is the safe type, they like their tea warm, their toast crust-free and their slippers close to the remote. The WALLFLOWER goes with the crowd. They’re the mob, responsible for Conservative election victories and the enduring television career of Clarkson. The ROMANTICS are the ones that keep hope alive. They stay until the bitter end, savouring every moment of glory. Needless to say the Jet Set falls into the last category. You could despise the EARLY RISERS for their safety first attitude, for their pessimism, for their need to flick between Cowell and Lloyd Webber on Saturday evenings, but you can admire their courage in going against the grain of the WALLFLOWERS, although this admiration may not last long.

Quite simply unless there has been a pressing issue over public transport the Jet Set have remained within the ground,  We’ve never felt  able to leave early, even when Wales have been losing 5-1 at home, even when Bangor  have been 5-1 down in Rhyl, even when Wales were losing meekly to Finland….. We are stayers!

Some call us misguided, some call us stupid, some have addressed us with worse names than that but we can’t help hoping for better, hoping for the impossible to pass. What wonders we have seen with such an outlook!!! The 2008 Welsh Cup Final, Bangor cITY 2 Llangefni Town 2 (Bangor were still 2-0 down in the 88th minute), the 2010 Welsh Cup Final……..

We have met others who take a different view, like the people we saw in Bergamo who paid roughly £200 for a taxi from Milan (about an hour from Bergamo) as soon as Wales were losing 2-0, or the friends of ours who feel the need to save a whole 15 minutes on the way home. You have to wonder what people like this have missed down the years.

Using clear-headed logic also backs up our outlook. If we were inclined to leave when things looked hopeless we’d have been cheated out of so many happy memories. We can’t imagine being anything other than stayers.

 The whole idea is captured by this well-written piece from When Saturday Comes.

“After 55 minutes of Scotland’s Euro 2012 qualifying group game with Liechtenstein last Wednesday, I made a promise to myself. If the score remained Scotland 0 Liechtenstein 1, I would never watch another game of football as long as I lived. I wouldn’t look at scores, or tables, or anything. If people started talking about football, I’d stick my fingers in my ears and start singing “Giiiiiiirls just wanna have fun” in a really loud and annoying way until they moved off. But of course the score changed, and Scotland gloriously won the game with a brilliantly contrived 97th-minute header. The most amazing thing about that goal, though, was the number of fans still in the stadium to witness it.

Why, you wonder, had most of them not already left in disgust after burning their kilts, bursting their bagpipes and casting one last glance at Hampden before vowing never to return? A cynic might say: “It’s because they thought 1-1 was actually quite a good result for Scotland, and they were just waiting to applaud their boys off the park.” But there’s another reason. They simply couldn’t leave the stadium. Whether it was a desire to see the winning goal or just morbid fascination, it seemed that at the end of the game, the stands were heaving with jubilant, and massively relieved, fans. Who will now always be able to claim that they were there “the night we almost lost to f***ing Liechtenstein”.

There are fans who have faith and fans who don’t. The fans who don’t are the ones who leave early. Personally, I’m like the Scotland fans. I just can’t leave, no matter how bored or disillusioned I am. I once tried to leave a Swiss Cup semi-final between Grasshopper and amateur side Red Star Zürich – Grasshopper were 6-0 up, there were five minutes to go and the stadium was seven-eighths empty. But I was still worried I might miss something, like Red Star scoring six goals in five minutes. Or, failing that, a bald eagle landing on the pitch, or the referee dropping his shorts and mooning in the direction of FIFA HQ. You just never know, do you? And so after exiting the stand, I kept stopping at the stadium portals and standing there to see out the game’s dying moments. And I just caught sight of Grasshopper scoring a seventh. Yep, looks like they’re through.

I thought of this again on Saturday as Everton fans celebrated their second goal in stoppage time to claim a draw against Manchester United. I was mainly thinking of all the fans who’d left already, because there were a lot of empty seats. I was imagining what they felt as they heard the first muted cheer from outside the stadium. “Ah, a consolation goal, ah well, 3-1, 3-2, what’s the difference, there’s no way a team like Manchester United give up two goals in injury time… [hears massive, unrestrained, gobsmacked roar]. Oh great, we got a point. Hooray. I’m glad for us, I really am. But why did they have to wait until I left before they scored twice? And why did I leave early? [Holds head in hands and collapses to the floor] Why did I do that?”

And that’s what I utterly fail to understand. Why would you pay £25, £35, £45 or more for a ticket to a 90-minute football match and then not watch the whole thing? Of course, the historical precedent of being 3-1 down to Man Utd with just two minutes of stoppage time to play could lead you to logically conclude, as a pessimistic Evertonian, that this will be another bad Saturday and you’d rather beat the traffic than wait to see the sight of glory-spoiled away fans cheering at the final whistle. But for most fans, there are only a few moments when you get to unleash wild, unfettered screams of crude joy in the company of several thousand others who are simultaneously going nuts. You have to work for those moments of collective glee. As in life, you endure hours of tedium and disappointment, but just occasionally you’re rewarded with a treasured moment of surprise and delight. In fact, it’s all we live for.” Ian Plenderleith

You have to weigh up the minutes saved and the potential memories lost, who wants to rush back for Saturday night tv anyway?

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