“Understand football and you’ll understand men.”
This is what Trivial Pursuits founder, Harry Harland, said to me when I revealed that whilst I’ve never properly understood the fascination with football, I very much enjoyed Match of the Day last Sunday. (Non-footballites – this was where the Man U/Sunderland and historic Man City/QPR highlights were screened in tandem).
I’ve thought about this ‘insult’ ever since. Why it is that most men like football and most women just don’t? It can’t be a sports thing. Girls enjoy Wimbledon just as much as boys and many are partial to a Six Nations game every now and again.
Understand football and you’ll understand men.
The things is, I DO understand football. I get the aim, the execution, the result. Hell, I used to play it myself when I was a child and I rather enjoyed it too. I would have carried on, I am certain, had I not been banned for accidentally pushing a boy to the ground and calling him a ‘wuss’. He cried. My point.
So yes I grasp the game of football and would even [shock horror] go so far as to say I understand the offside rule. I think that’s supposed to be impressive. It’s not. All women could understand it if they could be bothered to find out what it was, in the same way all men could understand mascara if they could be bothered to find out what that was.
So I figure it’s not about understanding the game itself, but understanding the culture.
Football isn’t just a game where a ball is kicked back and forth, sometimes in, sometimes out, sometimes ‘back of the net’. Girls are foolish to reiterate and ridicule this point, time and time again, and I wish we wouldn’t do it. Football is so much more than that…to a man.
Men don’t watch football alone (if they can help it). It’s their way of being social. There’s little else that would allow for such a male orientated TV gathering. Football enables a man to interact with another man in a way that is socially acceptable. Like apes picking nits off each other, it’s natural.
Girls, however, interact with each other all the time and often for no reason at all. ‘Tea’ could be a reason, ‘feeling like it,’ another. Not for boys. No, that’s weak and needy. Men need a reason to hang out together and there’s no better reason than a manly game of sports, grrr.
Taking pride in something non-work related
I reckon it’s 50-50 as to whether boys support their hometown FC. I’d wager most champion the team they adopted at school because it was popular at the time. So it’s not pride in their roots that necessarily inspires a man to cheer on, enthusiastically, a group of men in shorts, but more, taking pride in what that chosen group of men in shorts has come to represent: a part of them – adopted children, if you will. ‘Go’on my son,’ isn’t just an expression. It’s a revelation, one that says ‘As supporter, I’m dad, as player, you’re offspring (well, for this season anyway).’
Women contrarily, are more flakey when it comes to team loyalty. We can switch allegiance depending on the company we’re in or who’s playing who. Naturally charitable, women like to support the underdogs because we feel sorry for them. Men never waver their resolve in this insipid fashion. They take pain in loss and pride in victory, the victories of their pseudo sons. Unlike at work (where a modicum of subtly is required) they like to demonstrate this pride for all to see – rowdy cheers at the bar, sweaty foreheads, beer-breath and burps. In the same situation, women would never show pride in this way. For when surrounded by all that testosterone, women have something much more important to take pride in – their appearance.
The avenue of escape
If women wish to escape the house, we have an encyclopedia of feasible excuses at our fingertips – shopping, seeing granny, going for a walk, having a coffee…and so it goes on.
Short of lunch or the gym, men have not half so many excuses. ‘I’ll do the shop this week,’ just sounds suspicious. ‘Why?’ us girls ask. ‘What are you really doing?’
Nothing, however, says ‘steer clear ladies’ like ‘me and the lads are watching the game’. Flair up, female allergy. We’d rather scrub the bathtub.
Try the same sentence without the football bit though – ‘I’m meeting some mates down the pub’ – and it’s ‘Ooh, which mates? Is Dave going? And Adam? And John? Can I come…?’
Royal Weddings, Jubilees and Olympics aside, there’s little for men to feel nationalistic about these days. Why should they care for a country that taxes them out of their hot pasties and stamps an ASBO on their head if they throw one at a politician in protest? It’s also not PC to care much about your country. If you do, after all, you’re a racist.
Shove a football in the mix however, and it’s Rule Britannia til I die. British men get hotheaded about playing other countries (especially European ones) because it’s a modern (relatively safe) way to reenact the jingoism of yesteryear. The most exciting matches are the ones played against countries we’ve fought in history (and preferably triumphed over too). France. Argentina. Germany. What else could British and German soldiers of the First World War have chosen to play against each other, in no man’s land, on that fateful Christmas Day in 1914 – tiddlywinks?
Even the language of football sounds war-like in part: football field/battlefield, England squad/firing squad, there’s little difference. This would also then explain why we seldom beat Brazil. Not having fought them in a war, we just don’t hate them enough to try with utmost aggression.
Whilst we women can feel nationalistic over football (or The World Cup), we feel it just as easily over other things too. Man on a horse, aah it’s Darcy, a fine British hero. Wear a long dress and it’s aah we’re a princess, God Save The Queen.
So you see Harry, I think I do understand football and therefore, men a little too. If all the above can be gained from just 90 minutes of ball-kicking mayhem, then why not go crazy for it?
Though, of course, if you can grasp why some prefer socialising, escaping, feeling proud and nationalistic for longer than 90 minutes, in an exciting mish-mash of ways, at any time of day, regardless of season, perhaps one day you, Harry Harland, might come to understand women.
by Beenie Langley