I hope you don’t mind me writing about this on a Seahawks blog.
I’ve often wondered what it’s like not being a sports fan.
You can’t recreate the drama of live sport. Or the emotion. The stress, hope, belief or concern. There’s nothing like it.
Watching a team you’re invested in, competing in a crucial game, makes you feel alive.
At least that’s how I feel.
I can’t imagine not living with it. The good and the bad. Or at least the knowledge that either this will end brilliantly or with heartbreak. But I’m willing to take my chances on either on the off chance this will be a night to remember. To treasure.
You just can’t get that same high from a night at the theatre or within a great piece of literature. Music can stir the emotions but it hasn’t got the power to crush you or deliver elation with one moment of spontaneous inspiration.
There’s nothing that comes close to sport. It’s the best reality TV show in town. You constantly sit on the knife-edge of pleasure and pain as a fan. You go through the wringer, putting yourself through intense anxiety and tension.
All on the off chance you’ll win a game — played by individuals you don’t know.
I sit here writing this, a couple of hours after experiencing another low moment, wondering ultimately if it’s all worth it any more.
I’ve always seen England winning a major tournament as a life-completing moment. I have my family. If I can see England win something too, I’ll die a happy man.
I was fully prepared to witness England win Euro 2020 and save those memories along with any accumulated with my wife and children for the moment when the lights finally go out — hopefully in the distant future
Yet having experienced another situation where hope has been replaced with crushing sadness, I felt obliged to reflect on my own personal fandom.
You see, as much as sports has delivered so many great memories — I feel like the good times are always the calm before an inevitable storm.
When the Seahawks won a Super Bowl for the first time we all had 12 months to enjoy it. Then, almost as a means of punishment for having a nice thing happen, we were subjected to the most gut-wrenching Super Bowl loss. The team imploded and split. What should’ve been a happy moment against the Broncos is now overshadowed by the subsequent loss to the Patriots. It takes a great deal of concentration to watch the Denver game back now, without thinking about what happened next.
I wouldn’t say it’s spoiled. Perhaps not even tarnished. But some gloss went off the Super Bowl win for sure.
One of my happiest memories was watching England win the rugby World Cup in 2003. Since then, I’ve watched them lose two further finals. The most recent, in 2019, was an absolute hammering by South Africa. The team raised hopes by handily beating Australia and New Zealand. Just as everyone got excited — bang. Reality check time. Embarrassment in the final.
England won the cricket World Cup in 2019 and a few weeks later Ben Stokes delivered one of the greatest moments in sporting history, in my opinion, with a virtuoso performance in an Ashes test.
Yet the England cricket team lurch between the sublime and the ridiculous so often, you’re never far away from a drubbing to bring you back down to earth with a thud.
I don’t follow a top Premier League club. Many fans in England will quickly move on from Euro 2020 and look forward to the new season. For me football/soccer fandom is pretty much parked until the World Cup next year. Working as closely as I do in local football for the day job, the ‘fan’ side of things took a back seat a long time ago. And the local clubs where I live have done a great job over the last 20 years of delivering their fair share of misery anyway.
That brings me on to the Euro 2020 final. I feel privileged to have been at Wembley to witness wins against Germany in the last-16 and Denmark in the semi-finals. Indeed I always told my wife I just wanted to see England in a final. And here they were — in a final. Yet the truth is having reached the end, you always want to win it. The prospect of merely being there always sounds great until the moment you qualify for the final. Then, only winning matters.
The experience on Sunday left me feeling cold. The somewhat cowardly team selection, opting to incorporate a defensive back five with two further sitting midfielders sent a message that England were more concerned with holding Italy at bay than taking the game to their opponents.
It just felt like a massive missed opportunity to create memories to last a lifetime.
Arguably England’s best ever performance came against Holland at Euro ’96. They took the game to the highly rated Dutch and played them at their own game. They won 4-1, in a display still talked about with great fondness 25 years on.
In the final this year against Italy, England did the opposite. They spoke all week of playing with courage, yet the manager displayed none in his team selection. Then, as the game drifted away from England in the second half, he failed to make the necessary adjustments to wrestle any kind of control.
Everyone’s a great coach after the event of course. Neither is it that simple to insert one or two players and everything automatically changes for the better. Inactivity, however, in the face of what is obvious — that is frustrating.
England’s manager Gareth Southgate is a likeable man. The kind everyone is desperate to do well. Yet his inability to balance pragmatism with attacking potency feels costly tonight.
Southgate’s been able to ride two favourable draws at the World Cup and Euro 2020 to progress through tournaments. Yet in key games against Croatia in 2018 and now Italy — the inability to assert control, sustain any kind of threat and ultimately adjust to what was playing out has cost the country two opportunities we may never get again.
English folk will now obsess about another failure via penalty shoot-out and speak of ‘pride in defeat’ (we are world champs at losing bravely and feeling warm and fuzzy about it) — for me there’s just this bitter disappointment that they didn’t have a go.
The game was officially lost on penalties — but wasn’t really tried to be won in the initial 90 minutes or 30 minutes of extra-time.
That life-fulfilling moment is as far away today as it has been in each of my prior 37 years. Yesterday, I went to bed dreaming this would be the moment. It wasn’t. And I don’t know if I’ll ever see it. These days I wonder if I’ll be young enough to enjoy it if/when it does even happen.
The sad thing is I don’t see much changing. I don’t think England are any more likely to win something in the future, despite possessing young talent. You have to seize opportunities when they are there. They haven’t.
Neither do I think the Seahawks are primed for success. I think the 2021 season could easily turn into a running commentary on Russell Wilson’s future with the team with further concerns about the defense. And if it ends the same way as the last few seasons — what then?
In truth I find it hard to even muster any excitement or energy for the Seahawks currently. Maybe that feeling will subside as the memory of Euro 2020 fades and the new NFL season nears? I hope so — but this latest setback has taken a toll. I so badly wanted to see England win something.
The whole miserable sports fandom cycle will continue. Fleeting success, followed by a wave of heart-ache because you seemingly can’t have nice things unless you fluke your way into following one of those teams who win all the time.
All the while ploughing on, always chasing that high of rare victory. That moment you’ll take to the end of your days.
Every time I wonder if I can be arsed to put myself through this again — while knowing I probably will.