It was the French author and philosopher Albert Camus who said “all that I know of morality and obligations I owe to football”. And with these words ringing in my ears, I’ve been contemplating the profound test of morality and sense of obligation that I face this Sunday. As an Arsenal fan, I’m faced with the temptation of staying at home to watch the glitz and glamour of the table-topping Manchester derby instead of going to the Emirates to watch Arsenal play Stoke.
I am sure this is a situation that has faced fans of other clubs hundreds of times, but I’ve always been fortunate that, as an Arsenal fan, our games have normally been scheduled by Sky not to clash with other ‘big’ teams’ important matches. Unfortunately we’re not very good anymore so no longer receive this preferential treatment.
Of course any self-respecting fan will say that you have to watch your team, forsaking all others, in sickness and in health. So my temptation has led me to question my morality and sense of obligation which, according to Camus, I should have learnt from football by now.
My difficulty stems from the fact that watching Arsenal play Stoke is one of my least favourite activities. There is scarcely a more potent example of a team who are able to bully us and showcase our frailties than those brutish Potters. They also bring out the worst and most sanctimonious in Arsene Wenger- witness his embarrassing ‘rugby tactics’ claims last season prior to a limp 3-1 defeat. The prospect of seeing Jenkinson et al flailing hopelessly as they’re shrugged aside by Kenywne Jones and friends is sadly less appealing than seeing the likes of David Silva and Nani showing off their skills.
When I found out about the clash, it felt as though I was being invited to an exciting party but had already committed to a dreary relative’s birthday. Aside from the obvious sadness I have in comparing my beloved team to great aunt Joan, there are of course quite profound differences between the two, which should in theory make any infidelity towards Arsenal easier to justify.
To start with, Arsenal, like most other clubs, does not have feelings and given that the season ticket is already paid for, my absence wouldn’t even hurt them financially. Heck, even if I did decide not to go, the ludicrous attendance figures at the Emirates would say I had anyway. So why am I torn? Why don’t I blithely plan to attend this Mancunian shindig and say ‘to hell with my team’s overpaid, underachieving bunch of losers?’
The truth is that a lot of it comes down to self-respect as a fan. Football fans are a curious bunch; we near bankrupt ourselves paying extortionate fees to watch our team up and down the land in any weather, we happily renege on any relatives birthday that clashes with a match and we are delighted to miss out on ‘spending time’ with our other halves, citing football as an excuse which cannot be argued with. To us football fans these scenarios not causes of shame, but badges of honour. The worse a defeat witnessed, the greater the distance travelled, and the rainier the November night in Wigan braved, the better a fan you are.
And while I don’t consider myself anywhere near the bracket of those fans, I do like to think that I will support my team whatever happens. And this Sunday will of course be no great sacrifice but I feel it’s important, for myself, not for the team, that I do go and don’t accept that we’ve fallen so far that I’d rather watch other teams on TV than my own team live.
And that’s when the self-respect kicks in, because when the good days do return, I want to enjoy them having been there through the bad times. Turning my back on my team on Sunday would leave me always having to hear the little voice in my head saying, ‘ah but where were you when Santos volleyed in an own goal from Delap’s throw on that bitterly cold October afternoon?’ But Camus was right, self-respect comes from the sense that anything other than an unwavering feeling of obligation to our team would undermine us as fans.
Or maybe the reason I’ll go to the Emirates on Sunday is actually because of perhaps an even greater fan hallmark: self-delusion. Because come Sunday, if we do beat Stoke and the Manchester clubs draw, I’ll be thinking that we’re right back in the title race.
I could probably do without this introspection again, so to the good people at Sky and the Premier League, I’d appreciate it if you could make sure this doesn’t happen again. Thanks.