The Madness & the Depression
February 26, 2015 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Football fans – and here I naturally include myself – act as if they are mentally ill. This is an article that is nominally about football, but is just as much about the pressures of modern life and the plight of men (in particular, but not exclusively). This is both a very personal account and an observation of how others behave. It is about being a football fan, but also the impact of social media on our appreciation of life (and sport), and how constantly striving for more can lead to increased unhappiness – even if you attain it.
posted by modernnomad (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know about the internet/Twitter aspect of it, but you can certainly experience increased unhappiness if you base your happiness on them performance of a bunch of athletes over whom you have no control. - 'Why did they do that???'
That's when I needed to get out of watching (in my case, American) football.
posted by MtDewd at 6:13 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sports fandom is inherently irrational and that's partially why I love it. Suck it Baggies!
posted by josher71 at 6:20 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll read the article now. Ahem.
posted by josher71 at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2015


I thought Nick Hornby had established long ago that football fandom was essentially the pursuit of misery: one or two golden days of joy in a faithful lifetime of discomfort, disappointment and defeat.
posted by Segundus at 6:49 AM on February 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I thought Nick Hornby had established long ago that football fandom was essentially the pursuit of misery: one or two golden days of joy in a faithful lifetime of discomfort, disappointment and defeat.


Explains why I became an Arsenal supporter after growing up in Toronto.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:02 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's interesting how fans of big clubs in top leagues, like the Premier League, have a that constant misery of keeping up with the other teams. Nothing is ever good enough. Being miserable is a sign off devotion.

But of course that's a competition too, and as Sheffield Wednesday supporter I chuckle at my friends who support the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, etc. You think it's bad? Could always get worse. I think about Bristol Rovers and am happy we never dropped out of the Football League.
posted by kendrak at 7:20 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


one or two golden days of joy in a faithful lifetime of discomfort, disappointment and defeat.

Unless you're a Cleveland Browns fan, then it's nothing but the steaming product of the Factory of Sadness for you.
posted by resurrexit at 7:28 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've seem different teams/schools/clubs refer to this differently, but fans of the Texas A&M Aggies (American college football) and call this Battered Aggie Syndrome.
posted by resurrexit at 7:33 AM on February 26, 2015


I actually do think a fair bit, usually in the aftermath of losses to Duke in the NCAA tournament (although Nationals playoff series are starting to build up a nice history of this as well), about why I do this to myself. I could maybe cut ties with my love of UNC basketball if I really tried, avoided ESPN, stopped reading the blogs, put my Tar Heel tie and my Sportsulas in storage somewhere, and I would, honestly, probably be a happier human being. I wouldn't spend the days after a loss in a fog, barely forming memories (Kansas, Final Four, 2008), I wouldn't frighten my wife away when they make a big shot and I start shouting (all the time), I wouldn't hurt myself punching street signs (Nationals-Cardinals 2012).

The obvious answer is that the highs are so phenomenal. I had the good fortune to be born into a family of Carolina fans and to see them win it all three times. There's also the happy memories of past glories and excitement for games or seasons to come. Am I going to go watch the 2005 One Shining Moment montage after posting this comment? Of course I am. Without suffering, without embracing the suffering*, those moments and memories would mean less. That said, that isn't all of it. The Louis C.K. bit in the linked article about just pulling over and letting the sadness hit you like a truck, yeah, sometimes you need to do that.** Sometimes, I need to be really fucking sad because some people a decade younger than I am didn't make enough free throws. It feels good in a weird, stupid, self-defeating way.

Right after this happened, I downloaded an audio file of the post-game press conference, mostly as a way of processing what had happened, but I kept it on my phone for a couple years. Every now and then it would come up on shuffle and I would listen to the first couple seconds of it, get super depressed, and skip on. Obviously, I think that pain has value, since I wouldn't take the minimal step of deleting an mp3 so I could avoid it, but man, does that seem stupid when I write it down like that.

*Acknowledging that even in the world of being a sports fan, the suffering of UNC is pretty freaking miniscule.
**Not trying to fetishize genuine depression. I'm mentally healthy, so this is fine for me. Some people have trucks coming their way all the time, and that may make wallowing in Carolina losses less of a good idea.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:45 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anytime I get really angry at Wednesday for playing stupid football, like last weekend when they gave up the lead twice in their loss to Derby, I feel like I'm veering into Gordon Ottershaw territory. He really encapsulates the anger and the misery. (Side note: Barnstoneworth United actually exists now.)

Of course there is a competition of misery, which I totally participate in. I guess it probably is more traumatic and embarrassing for Arsenal fans or Manchester City fans to be thonked in Champions League draws, but at least you got invited to the party.
posted by kendrak at 7:47 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Battered Aggie Syndrome. Buffalo Bills fans have the razorcakes.

The obvious answer is that the highs are so phenomenal.

Is it? I was 6 years old when the Bills were last in a Super Bowl (one of my earliest memories is Wide Right, which probably explains some aspect of my personality). I was a freshman in high school the last time they made the playoffs. I have zero personal experience with the highs, but I still watch every game.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:00 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


fta: Most of the time as a fan you are thinking about what can go wrong in the remaining time. Unless you’re three goals ahead – make that four, just to be safe (see our great past, and Istanbul; or indeed, less enjoyably, Crystal Palace last season) – then it’s hard to actually take pleasure in what’s unfolding.

Wins are not celebrated with happiness as much as relief; and your team has to win otherwise it’s a catastrophe. (Catastrophising is a classic mental pitfall.) And part of the reason it’s a catastrophe is because of the shared collective, as we have either invested all our hopes in success (and will crumble as people if our idealistic situations are not met), or we have to face up to rival fans – in work, online, down the pub (remember those quaint places?) – who will rub our noses in defeat. Perhaps we need the win to prove a point to someone, as we all strive to be 100% right 100% of the time.


Being a fan of a not-great team makes you a lot better at this, at least in my experience. Small victories mean a lot more and huge losses mean a lot less. And trash-talking rival fans....I go to a Bills bar here in DC where without fail there's always one guy wearing the other team's jersey. I've talked to a couple of them and they usually mention how good-natured Bills fans tend to be about the whole thing. I would hate for that to change just because we got good or something.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:17 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing about Arsenal is that they're always trying to walk it in.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


Surely being a supporter is about finding a safe space in which to allow emotions to exist that would otherwise overwhelm ordinary daily life and render the subject incapable.

Sports are also a way for men to remain children forever. They're important. God knows what many of us males would be doing if they didn't exist, probably killing each other or trying to make money. Oh yeah.
posted by colie at 8:43 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


My perpetually baffled view as an outsider of fandom in general, but especially sports fandom which is especially popular (to the point that "not getting it" often feels tantamount to fundamentally "not getting" human behaviour in toto) and which is especially fanatical, is neatly summed up in these two Mitchell & Webb sketches:
- Why are they so excited?
- Why are they so invested?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Came here to make an Arsenal = depression joke, but apparently was beaten to it. Last night didn't help that cause either.

Thank god my girlfriend's name when Chelsea when I first started watching back in the 00's
posted by GreyboxHero at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


David Mitchell is a classist snob and that's nowhere more noticable than in his bafflement at football, which really isn't that hard to understand not even for people of the mind.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:12 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh hai kendrak Bristol Rovers fan here! Yes, first year out of the league since records began, but in line for automatic promotion after Tuesday's win!

The highs, the lows...

And no, I did not RTFA yet
posted by mgrrl at 10:03 AM on February 26, 2015


David Mitchell is a classist snob and that's nowhere more noticable than in his bafflement at football, which really isn't that hard to understand not even for people of the mind.

I don't understand.
posted by josher71 at 10:15 AM on February 26, 2015


David Mitchell is professionally baffled, angry, and owlish. That's his bit.
posted by echo target at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2015


really isn't that hard to understand not even for people of the mind

So it really is just peer pressure, tribalism, and bona fide addictive behaviour, huh? 'Cause that's my understanding of it.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:08 AM on February 26, 2015


[trying to one-up each other on how little you care about Sports seems a noisy derail in a thread about Sports fans, maybe skip the thread if this isn't floating your boat]
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:12 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


We almost fetishise this aspect of being a supporter: the anger, the irrationality, the paranoia, the grandiosity. It can bring great pleasure, but drive us nuts along the way. We let what happens on the pitch ruin our weekends, even our weeks, and get into arguments with fellow fans about what went wrong.

But enough about politics...
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:41 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


kendrak:
"It's interesting how fans of big clubs in top leagues, like the Premier League, have a that constant misery of keeping up with the other teams. Nothing is ever good enough. Being miserable is a sign off devotion."
*puts on smug expression*

German football enthusiast here. Home team is Bayern Munich. Life-long fan.
What is this misery you speak of?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know, everybody had matching towels, when the LSU Tigers were lucky to break the 6-win mark in a football season it sure seemed like the wins meant a lot more, and losses weren't so tough. We once lost to UAB for our home opener. Think about that for a second -- they're worse than Vanderbilt. I remember being EXCITED about appearing in the Independence Bowl. Now that we've been pretty good for several years the losses hurt a lot more. Especially losses to those people in Tuscaloosa. Stupid John Chavis. The Aggies are welcome to him.
posted by wintermind at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always watched a lot of sports (although less in recent years), but I haven't had a favourite team or player in any of them since I was in high school. What you lose in intensity of feeling and a sense of community you gain in peace of mind. I don't really care who wins or loses, at least not strongly, so it's like watching a movie.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:37 PM on February 26, 2015


Ehh, I don't really have the credentials to be a classist snob (does David Mitchell? He actually seems like a pretty normal dude to this American's contextless enjoyment of his material?) and I also have never had the slightest clue why people get so lost in the tribalism of organized sports. And I was a cheerleader in high school!
posted by Mooseli at 1:29 PM on February 26, 2015


Hairy Lobster - I seem to recall my team playing your home team in your home town's Champions League final a few years ago.....although I guess losing at home to Chelsea ringers happens to the best right?
posted by GreyboxHero at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2015


There's only ONE champion per league, so, for example, in the NFL only one of 32 localities gets genuine bragging rights (and how much comfort is the Patriots' win giving to Boston right now?). But still, even with a team that hasn't won the big one in its history, your chances are better than that of becoming a CEO or a Billionaire, which for some of us is one-in-a-million and for more of us it's none-in-a-million. And that's the biggest values of Sports to our society, the instillation of unreasonable expectations based on probability and mathematical illiteracy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2015


German football enthusiast here. Home team is Bayern Munich. Life-long fan.
What is this misery you speak of?

1999 Champions League finals?
posted by ersatz at 2:29 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really liked how he described how bad sports fans can be at staying out of the relentless narratives and just being in the moment, and it sort of reminded me of a difference between US sports call-in radio shows and UK sports call-in radio shows that was pointed out by someone whose name I can't remember on some other corner of the Internet.

In the major US sports, there's pretty much complete stability of opponents and a fair bit of stability within the team, so you get these guys with encyclopedic knowledge of their team and no knowledge of any other team at all who just go on for ages about the fourth-string cornerback or the 7th-inning reliever or whatever (generally in a cliche-filled rant about grit and mental toughness). In any sport with promotion, relegation, and international competition, though, your team might be playing against a whole new set of opponents each year, and might even sign a teenager from a team in Estonia or Gabon that you've never heard of before, so instead of knowledge of their own team, it's knowledge of every team and country that the guys who call in affect while giving their cliche-filled rants about mechanical Germans or Brazilians who can't defend or whatever.

I can't speak to the absolute truth of that characterization, but I was struck then, as by this article, by the immense weight of the narratives we apply to sports, such that essentially the exact same dudes trying to do the exact same thing 5000 miles apart from each other would have adopted completely different strategies to cope with the semi-random and alternately frustrating and glorious outcomes of the actual games.
posted by Copronymus at 4:24 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


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