How Much Does Pain Cost? On Football and Masochism


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How much does pain cost? It was in January when Arsenal lost 1-0 in an English Premier League game to Chelsea that the ideas for this post started to sprout. After that game I decided to drown my depression by chatting with a female friend. As we chatted she somehow sensed that all wasn’t well with me asked me what the matter was, when I told her that it was because we lost to Chelsea, the girl knowing some football, but not enough to consider being a fan of any club, English or otherwise, asked innocently “Why do you support Arsenal anyway, despite the fact that they are always losing?” Even though I tried to explain it away to her in terms of relationship and sometimes playing beautiful football mumbo jumbo, but I was utterly stumped by the question, since that day especially given that Arsenal’s form has suddenly started to drop like a a drill looking for oil, I have not ceased to ponder about that seemingly innocent question.

Arsenal have lost three games out of their last four, and the reaction to every loss, is sad, frustrated, bitter and angry fans (again me included) spilling their bile and expressing their pain on social media. In fact it has gotten to the point that any fan who as much as expresses a positive is ganged up on and shot down for encouraging mediocrity, being delusional etc. The most disturbing one I found recently was one who said “Arsene Wenger should not just be sacked, he should be killed.” Now before you point it out, I know it was just a tweet in anger, but I thought about the amount of anger and frustration that must have gone into that tweet, and my friend’s question “why support a football club that makes you this depressed?” came back to bug me again as well as the question I started this piece with “What is the price to pay for pain?”

On the surface it would really appear that Arsenal fans like to complain because they don’t genuinely  like the pain of defeat and the pain of lack of progress that the club’s board and Arsene Wenger keeps making them endure year after year. However  it becomes more confusing when an Arsenal fan comes up with “I have been supporting Arsenal for ten years and all I have gotten in return is defeat and disappointment.” The neutral who knows about football is then tempted to ask, ” the last ten years have witnessed the  rise of clubs like Barcelona, Paris St Germain, Bayern Munich, even Manchester City and Chelsea, why don’t you go,support those ones who play well and win things?”

I think it is more than loyalty or love for football, I feel it is a sort of latent  masochism in human system, inspite of our protests to the contrary. We look at people who engage in BDSM and torture porn as  freaks, but inwardly we all have that masochist element, both in enduring pain and inflicting it. Here is a club that is separated from you by an ocean (speaking as a Nigerian now) who cannot hear your complaints, and in whom you have little or no significant physical investment, (maybe you buy a jersey now and then).  As fans who lives in Nigeria, we have no real reason to be loyal to Arsenal more than PSG or Juventus for example. Yet we all subject ourselves to such anger and sadness and bitterness on a weekly basis. To realize the extent of this sadomasochist tendency, watch what happens when an Arsenal fan comes on social media to point out positives in a depressing performance. What you will see is  them being  quickly shouted down for settling for mediocrity or being deluded. As I pointed out to a friend, when I pick positives out of a poor Arsenal performance, or hope against hope that we are going to win a game where we are clearly underdogs, I am not supporting mediocrity, I am only trying to make myself feel less depressed, like pouring iodine on a bleeding wound. It won’t heal the wound instantly, but it will make it hurt a lot less. But for football fans, trying to reduce pain is a dreamer’s way out, the more hurt you look, the more people will sympathize with you and admire your sense of character (Piers Morgan I’m looking at you).
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I have come to learn over the past few years as an Arsenal fan that the anger I am feeling at Arsenal or Arsene Wenger is not because of a love for good football or loyalty  it is because, a perverted part of me thrives on the pain that “Arsenal” inflicts.   like people who do BDSM, I want to endure that pain and anger because it gives me a similar sense of satisfaction and affirmation of pride. Like the Apostles in Acts chapter 4 who, after a night in jail, were severly warned not to preach Jesus Christ again, yet who declared right in front of their tormentors that it is impossible for them to not do so, our masochism is an affirmation that we are better than everybody else. As fans of various football clubs, We derive a twisted sense of fulfilment from the trolling. I am not saying defeats don’t  hurt, what I am saying is that  it doesn’t hurt as much as the venting we do. A large part of the venting is for show, that we are better, stronger, more courageous, more capable of feeling hurt and by extension more human than those “spoilt” FC Barcelona/Bayern Munich/PSG fans who have everything easy. They win all the time, buy all the players they want and don’t know what it means to be an underdog.

So the next time Arsenal lose and my friend asks me why I keep supporting a team that never wins and devolve from beautiful football to sluggish football from time to time, I will probably tell her ” it is because I am a masochist who loves being hurt in order to show that I have greater strength of character than everybody else.” I think it is as simple as that
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