“It’s just a game. Twenty-two stupid men chasing a ball around a pitch.” We’ve all heard it said. In fact, when our team have lost a game we have even been known to say it ourselves. Usually after the fourth or fifth pint.
Bill Shankly once famously said that football was more important than life and death.
Apart from my friends and family I am somewhat ashamed to say that Football is the most important thing in my life. I know that many people in the world would think that makes me a very sad individual indeed, but I’m not alone.
If it is one of the most important things in my life then surely it can’t just be a stupid game. If it is not as important as friends and family then it surely isn’t more important than life or death.
So that’s what I am going to try to look at today. Why is football so important to me and to millions of others? What is it about the game that takes over my life?
Ahmed Bilal started the website Soccerlens “to put all the time he and his friends spent talking about football to good use.”
I became a football writer because I watched and talked about little else in my life and it seemed a sensible way to try to earn a living. At least I can give my wife a realistic excuse for wanting to watch Accrington Stanley against Dagenham and Redbridge on the television. Now it is for my career. In the past it was because I was a sad old git.
I should give you some background on my own life within football. As a youngster I captained my school side and everyone agreed that I was a very promising player indeed. Like millions of young boys I dreamed of lifting the FA Cup at Wembley in the famous old yellow shirt of Watford. (OK, maybe there aren’t millions who dream the yellow shirt bit.)
Despite everything looking good my playing career was cruelly cut short when I discovered that I had a serious and indeed, career threatening, lack of talent. There is no doubt that I had a good football brain. I knew exactly what should be done and to a certain extent I could do it. The problem was that the extent to which I could do it was never going to be better than local league standard.
I kept the dream going but despite a series of adequate performances for Bushey in the Watford and District league, my big chance of fame with a top club never materialized. Sometimes, if there was a man watching who I thought might be a scout for a professional club, I even put my cigarette out before walking on the pitch. I was very dedicated indeed.
I never, ever drank alcohol on the morning of a match and I nearly always got to bed at some point the night before a game. I was setting these sort of standards long before the continental approach to football fitness and living your life right hit the English game.
I continued playing until I was thirty-seven when I realised that not only could I not do the little I used to be able to do when I was younger anymore, I also realised that on a Sunday, I was still in pain from the game seven days previously.
All through those years I spent thousands of pounds and hours watching Watford play all over the country. If there was football on television I watched it. If there was a conversation about football I joined in. If there was an article about football I read it.
Now, everything has changed. Well, actually it hasn’t. I don’t follow Watford all over the country anymore, but I still see them occasionally and now I go to watch Salisbury City as well.
So why is it all so important to me? The fact is that the World can be a pretty miserable place. There are bombs and wars. There is famine and disease. There are terrible crimes of violence. There is an endemic drug problem and corruption in public life. Watching the news on television is one of the most depressing things that anyone can do. Is there nothing nice or good going on in the entire world?
Yes there is. It’s called football. People in every country in the world including, hopefully soon, the USA love the game. They love it’s passion, colour, intensity, skill, tactical appreciation, pace and beauty.
Football truly is an international language. You could walk into a remote village in Africa and ask the people who they support and they will tell you; they could have a conversation about Manchester United or David Beckham. If you took a football with you and kicked it to someone they would kick it back.
I used to be a Police Officer and on night duty we would play football with the youths in town who were regarded as ‘trouble makers’.
In World War one there was the famous occasion when the troops took time out from trying to kill each other in order to have a game of footy.
The USA could play Iraq at football. Bosnia have played Serbia. Football is one thing in this sad world that can unite us all. I think that makes it pretty important.
The game gives so much pleasure to millions of people around the world. We watch it, play it, talk about it, read about it and yes, disagree and argue about it, but we are all united by a common love of the game.
So do I think Bill Shankly was right? No, it’s not more important than life or death, but it’s pretty close.
Also See: The Heart of Football.