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.”
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.