There is a photo, taken precisely at the moment Eden Hazard scored to equalise in the Chelsea v Tottenham game. In it, a blue clad Leicester supporter is in the process of rising to his feet, arms spread wide as if attempting to hug reality itself. Over his shoulder is thrust an arm of a friend. His face is contorted, a roar of rage and joy and sheer release of tension.
A photo taken less than thirty minutes earlier saw him slumped in his seat, his friend resting his head in his palm, willing it all not to be this way. They’re not even watching their own team play. But that’s how it is.
This is football, this is loving the game, this is letting yourself be drawn into it and allowing the game to seize your emotions and guide you from despair to ecstasy and back to despair again.
The two pictures sum up the experiences at either end of that spectrum, one lived, loved and occasionally hated by every supporter who exalts in every victory and fumes at loss. Because while ‘it’s just a game’ we all know it’s definitely more than a game, right?
I have chased promotion, steered the treacherous course of knockout cups, barely scraped through group stages and managed to knock my rivals ‘right off their fucking perch’ as a supporter. But I’ve also flirted with, pashed & occasionally gone all the way with relegation, verged on bankruptcy, watched as my team registered zero shots on target at home (basically the equivalent of forfeiting the game).
In that time I’ve been showered in broken glass as pints hit the pub ceiling (we’d scored a late winner to secure our survival) danced in a precarious row high above the pitch at Wembley as the cup was lifted and hugged, sworn, sweated and sang alongside friends and strangers alike.
And I’ve sat, despondent, in a stand after the final whistle, joined mutterings regarding the future of the team and railed against the obvious ineptitude of referees, linesmen, fixtures computers, opposition managers, opposition players, our manager and occasionally, our players.
There was far more despair than victory in all of that time, far more fear than jouissance. But in a way, the struggle and toil, the encroaching darkness of going a goal down against a side you need to beat is instantly transformed into furious white light when your midfielder scores two screamers in the last fifteen minutes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re Champions League competitors or a ‘massive club’ – their fans may invite derision for complaining they’re financially secure and successful beyond most others’s dreams – but those supporters will still roar a goal, still feel the clutch of warmth that a victory brings, or take the chill of a defeat into work on Monday.
There’s more to it that just victory and defeat, but like the man in the photo, it’s the moments that matter, moments that make all the time spent supporting worth every single second.
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