Fandom is a Tapeworm

I did not intend to write about yesterday’s trip to Goodison Park. If I had I would have kept my head clear throughout the pre-game activities. Seeing as enjoying the experience was the ultimate goal and enjoyment is sadly entangled with the consumption of alcohol, heads got dutifully dimmed and rocked, clothes stained and wrinkled, and credit cards put to the mercy of Liverpudlians all too eager to make the most of the visiting horde of savages descending on their famous city.

Travelling from London to Manchester and from there to Liverpool was hardly akin to sunbathing with a cool drink by your side but still the least demanding part of the day. By the time I made my way to Mathew Street the party was in full-swing. I had already been informed that publicans quintupled beer prices. Thankfully my backpack is moderately spacious and did a fine job at swallowing a few four-packs of supermarket-bought beer cans.

Arriving dead sober amidst a crowd of unshaven Cypriots striving towards the obtainment of that rarefied of mostly impermanent traits, the lack of any capacity to maintain verticality, felt like I stumbled onto a futuristic tripwire which set off a teleporting device instantly taking me to Alaska while also replacing my clothes with a suit made of old newspapers and dried leaves. To follow through with this belaboured analogy, a bucket of cheap beer would be buried halfway into the ice, and the more of the stuff I consumed the warmer and more wind-resistant my attire would become. It’s a matter of survival, you see.

It’s hard for me to find an apt way to segue into this so I may as well be blunt. It was difficult to enjoy myself without a certain amount of asterisks dotting the array of superlative sensations one feels in a situation like this. Football fandom mirrors music in a way. The separation of artist and product has been an ongoing discussion and plenty nuance is needed. Beyond nuance though, the truth is that we have to convince ourselves that things aren’t as bad as we think they are or that certain behaviours aren’t as detestable as we know they are because goddamn it, we enjoy the communal experience, tribalism (or some aspects of it anyway) and the emotions these performances make us feel.

More specifically, this was the ever-looping game my brain played on me yesterday. I was among friends, relatives and compatriots, drink in hand, singing chants about our team. This is one of the things I miss from back home. A lot of people frown on fan clubs and football fans in general but very few of them know what they’re talking about. A good amount of excellent writers have tried to give readers a taste of this sort of environment and why it seduces people in such convincing fashion. I won’t try to replicate their efforts here.

It was incredibly fun. The atmosphere was electric with anticipation and, frankly, sheer joy just for making it to the group stage. That’s the life of a European minnow and we wouldn’t trade it for the world. However, as soon as my brain took quite conscious pauses to take it all in with voracious appetite, it also telegraphed things other than enjoyment or excitement back. It was almost OCD-like. “There’s someone to your right bothering the bouncer without rhyme or reason.” “The man in the black t-shirt over there just screamed in a woman’s ear just because she happened to be passing by.” “The street is littered with plastic cups, cans and beer bottles.” “They’re banging their hands on someone’s car.”

goodison_park.jpg

 

We  then moved in unison, led by policemen towards where buses would pick us up and take us to Goodison Park. We continued singing, dancing, jumping up and down and, of course, drinking. We stopped at regular intervals for more coordinated chants and for the fan club’s photographer (see: topless man with smartphone) to take a few pictures and videos. A person in a Roma shirt tried to take a video of us as well. Another club’s jersey is a provocation to some. Someone told him to leave. Then they pushed him. And then they pushed him again. Quite a few locals were taking clips of the crowd by then but the ones in ‘plain clothing’ were left alone, mostly. Another person walked near us, smiling, clearly enjoying our display. He was pushed away in as violent a way a push can be. He had done nothing to provoke.

A few of the people in the fan club are hopeless cases. Life hasn’t been kind to them the same way they weren’t kind to the opportunities they might have had to better their circumstances. It’s one thing being young and passionate, following your team around, letting emotion guide you, but being in your 40s or early 50s and having nothing to show for in life other than your football-related antics is both tragic and dangerous. Bitterness is toxic and manifests in dangerous ways. These people excel at nothing other than having a lot of supporter mileage. They were there in the 80s, in a stadium without seating. They were there in the 90s, when playing against FC Sion of Switzerland was considered a monumental event.

But now they’re in an age where the contrast between the uneducated and those who are is quite prominent. People half their age can have managerial positions earning twice as much as they do. Football and ultimately hooliganism is how they earned their stripes and where they command respect.

This is just one aspect of it though. This is just the excuse part. The other is the quite simple fact of them being crass, violent, proud of their Greek-Cypriot heritage to the point of nationalism and in some cases racism. This part is the one that began as difficult to reconcile with wanting to follow football and which then evolved to becoming completely irreconcilable.

I’m thankful it’s just a pocket of idiots but that’s glossing over it, again. I’m thankful younger fans aren’t like this to a similar degree but again, that’s glossing over it. There are young, nationalist hooligans as well. Echoes of a time that should have been put to rest. It’s painfully apparent that a lot of them were left without guidance or mentoring as children and not due to fatherlessness either. Rather, the fathers most likely didn’t know any better and didn’t care to shape individuals better than themselves.

I did notice, however, an attempt by someone to get everyone to start singing a song rooted in the 1955-1959 war for independence against the British. It has come to embody different things now, especially in the context of football and its most hardcore followers. It was encouraging to see the vast majority not react and just stay silent while it died out after the first stanza.

All of this is taxing to both register as well as process. I ultimately enjoyed myself yesterday and perhaps that means I’m part of the problem. I try to tell myself that the calories spent trying to contextualize, denounce or critique certain behaviours make it better. They don’t, yet I don’t think I’ll be able to detach myself from following my club the way I do in the foreseeable future. I’ll carry on, ingesting the positive emotions offered and casually turn my head the other way as some of the nutrients are sucked away by this inadvertent symbiosis.

Kyriacos Nicolaou

Willing Things Into Motion

I desperately need to get the writing ball rolling again. It’s been more than a year since my last post. I started my blog while in Cyprus, a counterweight to doing a job that I didn’t much see as a source of happiness, being in a place that I intermittently love with extreme intensity but fiercely wanted out of. It’s unseemly to dub writing an ‘interim fix’ but that’s how it started out, at least in terms of the blog.  

Writing about Cypriot football in English was not met with criticism but with restrained apathy. I got the obligatory likes and shares by friends, but I’m certain only a handful of them read what I wrote at the time. It’s understable. Why read something they’re already informed about in a second language? A combination of personal flaws, lack of time and a prolonged feeling of despondency halted my writing endeavour. I had aimed to write an article per week. A short two months later I stopped meeting that target until the whole thing faded away altogether. I put everything creative on pause and focused on escaping the island.

Escape implies nasty things. Cyprus is far from a prison, it’s not a place of darkness. It’s a holiday destination. It’s connoted with sunny days and easily-accessible beaches and frequently going out for a cheap-ish drink or seven. I now feel comfortable in declaring that these things can be perfectly inadequate for certain Cypriots and that it’s not prison-worthy to be open about feeling this way.

I remember talking with a new but important friend about this. The feelings were very much mutual. On a rain-soaked day in mid-January we let our discomfort with our ostensibly-comfortable surroundings bounce against each other. The pavement felt ring-fenced. We stood there for damn near an hour. Simple statements were let loose and got repeated until we were both drenched in what they meant and what actions should follow.

A year and two resignations later we’re now seemingly aeons away from that day. I moved back to London in September and was lucky enough to quickly find a job helping me to get by and forge a new path. He’s doing a bunch of great things himself, including getting ready to move to Beijing for a few months. I raised a cheap can of beer to our respective moves on many occasions.

 

Image source: www.blog.europlate.org.uk

Image source: www.blog.europlate.org.uk

 

Being in London is neither glamorous nor an achievement in and of itself. It is inspiring though. Discomfort and variety always are. The rain and the cold, the extortionate cost of living, the congregation of intelligent and creative people (or stilted and soft - I still love you Manchester), the access to shows, they all add up to something greatly more driving than Cyprus’ warm, hypnotizing, placating embrace.

With all of this in mind I’ve started to sense guilt levels steadily rising. Guilt of a brand different to what my collection of chemicals is met with on a regular day. Excuses have dissipated. I could argue that excuses never should have been made to begin with but I can make a serious case for writing-killing priorities. Tasks have been completed, however, and writing did not take place.

This is what this excessively self-referential post is seeking to inadvertently address. I’m writing about not writing to get me writing. A convoluted pitch to a bad movie  but an apt summary nonetheless. April will determine if the purpose of this piece has been realised.

Kyriacos Nicolaou

 

 

Coming Back From The Sidelines

Back From The Sidelines

You may have noticed a prolonged period of inactivity. ‘You’ signifying the 30 or so people who’ve ever visited Coppergut. No matter. A tiny slice of the populace is still entitled to my affection. Salutations for taking a few minutes to take a look at what I’ve written.

Image: Mark Morison - 'Return of the mack'

Image: Mark Morison - 'Return of the mack'

I’m willing myself to become more involved with blogging again. Seeing as the original purpose of Coppergut clashes with the current state of my life in comically awkward fashion, the only viable way for this hack to pick up the proverbial pen and resume hamming it up is by diversifying the topics tackled. Expect football posts from outside of Cyprus, some poor takes on music matters and the odd piece that falls under neither category.

Let’s see how true I stay to my stated intentions.

Kyriacos Nicolaou