The Emotional Price of Football

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As the nights draw in, as the leaves start to fall, as the frost covers the ground, there is a population of humanity that thrive in such conditions. The summer is not their friend. It destroys all that they care for, the heat acts as a temptress for different allures, but this population know where their heart lies. They will not give in and will never forget their first true love. This population are in love with the beautiful game and winter is their solace. This population is the British football fan.

We follow our side’s home and away, sing their praises and cry in despair, our mood can be dictated by the quality of performance and results. However football fans are under-valued souls, taken for granted by clubs, and charged extortionate fees for the right to be called a fan. But this article will only pay minor attention to the economic impact of football on a fan; instead it will primarily look at the psychological and emotional implications.

A football fan is more than a supporter. They are a devoted spouse to the team, a member of the orchestra, a singer in a choir, a soldier in the army. They give their time, money, and heart to a football team, often expecting nothing more than a similar commitment by those on the pitch.

The football fan does not ask for much, only to be treated with respect by authorities, fellow fans, and the like. However their mental health can pay a dire price if the equilibrium becomes unbalanced and they start to cross the line between fan and consumer. A consumer, for example, trades in their money in return for goods, but the transaction does not end there. The consumer becomes emotionally embedded in this transaction as it becomes an investment. The goods provide a service which subsequently evokes an emotional response – the aim being happiness. If the goods do not meet the requirements set by the producer or consumer, they can be returned. Thus the producer of the goods must ensure that the goods meet the necessary requirements to ensure the consumer is happy. But now imagine that the goods are mid-market standard but the consumer expects the goods to be of the highest quality whilst continuing to pay for current mid-market standard. Inevitably the consumer will be disappointed if the prices rise to meet the highest quality standards, or the producer becomes disenfranchised by delivering below-standard goods in order to meet the needs, rather than the wants, of consumers. Either way, the transaction will cease.

The benefit of being a fan, rather than a consumer, is that there is no fixed emotional investment. We do not trade in our money for the purposeful intention of receiving a positive outcome. Instead of expecting happiness and the highest of quality, fans hope for happiness. Instead of expecting to get value for money, fans pray. Part of football’s appeal is its unpredictability; the dream that one day the underdog will defy the odds and beat a giant. The dream that one day our side will win the league, or the cup, or our local rivals.

Sadly, clubs often treat fans as consumers and nothing else. Clubs are run on the basis that consumers buy into their product and will be an ever-present income. As seen in the recent BBC Price of Football Study, British football clubs extort the fans. With the average cost of an adult replica shirt standing at over £42 and nearly £34 for children, football is a costly affair prior to attending a match. Matchday tickets can cost between £22 and £97 in the Premier League, whilst season tickets vary between £294 and £2,013. When factored in that the average salary of Britons stands at £26,500, the outlay on football can be substantial and life altering.

In relation to mental health, the economic implications of being a fan can weigh heavily on the mind; however it is the impression of results and dedication that can have the largest effect. That old adage of living for the weekend can be altered to living for the matchday for football fans. Lives revolve around the sport as attendance can be as compulsory as oxygen for the brain. Friendships are often formed around football as we seek like-minded people to associate with. Whilst routines and habits take shape around the location and time of kick-off. Behaviour is also altered by football. For example, being physically present at a match can cause fans to act hysterically. The singing and atmosphere is what we as fans crave come matchday, yet for some that proximity to the team they love can be overbearing and alter their psyche in such a way that they act out inappropriately, this can be through violence or verbal diarrhoea. Similarly, for those that become too emotionally invested in their side, a failure for a team to meet expectations, whether that be an adverse result or league standing,  can also lead to negative actions or mood.

Of course fans vary in devotion and according to how much we become invested in our side; however come matchday we are as one. We cheer, moan, and shout according to how our team fares. We rejoice and condemn according to the outcome. It is the emotional price of football.

Yes it can spill over into obsession and delirium as we become emotionally invested in our side but that is why we love football. Football is our ever-present love, our ever-present rock in an ever-changing world. As such, we as fans are more than consumers, more than supporters, and more than bystanders, we are football.