I have decided to write this post in order to try to explain fanaticism and football to others who might think that this writer loses it every time the Beautiful Game is mentioned. The descension to infantile diatribes with other equally fanatic supporters might ring as puerile behaviour to those others that either (a) don't geddit or (b) geddit but love the holier-than thou posturing that it allows them to take.
So Football Fanaticism. What is it all about? Where does it all start? We must perforce start with a warning. You might get to the end of this article and still not understand. Just like there are probably many who read Nick Hornby's book and still did not get the ticket. So there you have it. I warn you. Any comments about "eleven grown up men running after a ball" will force me to violate my tolerance principle and to delete them outright. Especially if they are coming from people who can sit through the whole series of Desperate Housewives without a yawn.
Secondly, it is not about sex. The only time sex is involved in football is when trying to compare the satisfaction of a last minute bungled goal when the goalkeeper slips and your team make it through to the next round and that of a contemporaneous orgasm when you just KNOW that everybody concerned has enjoyed the fun. And, yes, many people will be disappointed to know that it takes more than five minutes of reflection before calling that a draw. Neither is it about gender. The fan is unisex as far as I am concerned. Only the male fan has a anthropological tendency to sway into the genre of "fanatic" more often than others (as in bi or female or gay or what the heck should I know). It must have something to do with the hunter gatherer thing but I am not too bothered to find out.
Now to fanaticism. There is the team you choose. No matter how the choice happens, the real fan will stick to the team through thick and thin. It will "never walk alone" as the Liverpool anthem goes. I chose Juventus because of their initial and Brasil because of a colourful description of their 1970 team in a book published for Spain '82. The real supporter can never switch team. You do not have to be raised within the team's borough or quartiere to feel an integral part of it. Neither does attending any live matches of the team have anything to do with it. It's an invisible umbilical cord that ties you to their fate once you have studied all their statistics, learnt all their nuances and begun to wear their colours every Sunday while listening to Tutto Il Calcio Minuto Per Minuto.
You will flirt with other teams. In my case I flirt with Valletta regularly, I had a long-standing flirt of sympathy with the Manchester United that still could not win a league throughout the eighties, I still flirt regularly with Barcelona although I can never forgive them for that Archibald goal. But flirts seldom last. Real passion is reserved for one club (and in the case of most Maltese) one other nation.
With passion comes rivalry. Without rivalry and the other there is no youl. Football is not all about entertainment. It is also about watching others slip by. It is about being able to sing about their losses as well as your gains. It would not be complete without that. I am talking about the non-violent, witty rivalry. The one that is best encapsulated with the long-running Inter jokes. And where does rivalry start? Every team has different rivals at different times. When I started following Juve with a passion, when the first black and white spirits began to inhabit the sporting mind, Juventus were battling the giallozozzi for the Championship. It was Platini vs Falcao. And my childhood friends enabled this rivalry to burn.
First there was Helmut. A german name but a Romano de Roma. Every summer he would head down to Marsalforn full of the lore of the tifosi. We would scour the Gazzetta or his prefered Corriere to learn about transfers. He would tell me of stadium chants that were the current trend (and I could only listen jealously since he would never tell me what the Juventini were singing). When it was not Helmut in summer it was Chris Soler. Now a criminal lawyer but then a criminal Roman. He was too passionate about Rome. He did not have a subbuteo pitch, he had an Olimpico miniature.
We played one-a-side football in the Qui-Si-Sana "gardens" but in our mind it was 11 a-side and we were all the players of our beloved clubs. Soler had the habit of extensive celebrations after scoring... shouting the name of some Roman attacker... Falcao Falcao! I dropped the habit some time around Prep I at Saint Aloysius' College... Soler, it seems, still shouts Totti with every goal.
Well... you begin to learn to despise your rivals from when you are young. Especially after the first "disfatta" of your team. The first loss. The taunting and jibes get to you. And you will carry it to every next match transforming it into an additional reason for your team to win, win, win. I never had a malicious hatred for any team. Irritating yes but malicious never. To me it is part of the game. You learn to live by it. My generation of Juventini cannot stand the gomblottisti giallozozzi. Later generations remember Parma, Dortmund and Milan in the same light.
The thing is that you begin to live, breathe and think football on match days. There is everything at stake. It is ironic. The choice you made as a toddler sticks with you in good and in bad. It makes you bite through your fingers, risk cardiac arrest and scream "Goal" out loud in a restaurant full of quiet diners. It is incurable... and I add thankfully. It is part of the lust for life.
I will stop here for now. There is still too much to say for one post. And I am still oozing out the genuine contentment after yesterdays rocambolesque ending to the match. We are through to the next round, luck or no luck. Next time I intend to talk about the extent of fidelity and about how I cannot understand those who extend their fanaticism to "all Italian clubs when they play in the cup". I will also try to explain how you can side with Valletta even if you never turned up at Ta Qali stadium except for that occasional Belt-Rahal duel - just as much as you can be a Floriana diehard if you live in the middle of Sliema close to the lazy corner ;)
To the next one.... and I hope Arsenal - Real is truly interesting and that the spectators will be able to enjoy the magic of Roma-reject Cassano :)