It’s often said that football is an analogy for life. Those core tenets of the humanist school of psychology, emotions, positive and negative, achievement, loss, control and choice are all there; it’s got the lot. Very importantly, the rules and structure of the beautiful game help clubs, teams, players, pundits and fans alike to engage, hope and analyse the victories and defeats week after week and season after season.
Last night I watched a cracking game in which the home team Liverpool, took on the premiereship leaders Manchester City and gave them, to coin a footballing phrase, a good spanking. The three goals that came in the first 31 minutes from Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mane took the seemingly, until then, invincible Man City players by storm.
Of course, like life, football has its shadow side. Before the game the opposing side were greeted by packed Liverpool streets of screaming and jeering fans. The Man City bus was pelted with missiles and surrounded by the red smoke of flares. It was like a war zone. After the game the Man City coach Pep Guardiola declared his team’s coach a write-off and FA and UEFA inquiries into the fans’ behaviour have been initiated.
All through the game when the fans weren’t singing, chanting and yelling their support they kept up a steady whistling, booing and jeering every time a Man City player got the ball. As spectator sports go it was pretty enthralling and exciting and a testament to the power of the Liverpool’s fans belief and desire. Asked afterwards, about their thoughts on the match and why they thought they’d won, every Liverpool player started by talking about their fans’ support.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to notice all of the above but I do wonder about less successful teams’ strategy for engaging fans. Positive psychology, of which I’m a big fan, uses the idea that to get desired outcomes, you have to identify what is best in your particular endeavour and do more of it. Maybe some of the big spender top teams who also charge the highest ticket prices that don’t perform as expected need to do more. Perhaps ensuring that there are never any empty seats by making a proportion of tickets much more affordable and accessible would help. Maybe investing in a brilliant club anthem and making sure the fans sing along would be good too. Providing decent food for all levels of fans rather than just the corporate ticket holders would also be a good idea. When I first started attending live games it took a long time to feel, as a woman and an older one at that, a sense of belonging. In over ten years as a season ticket holder I’ve never once been asked about my experience as a fan. Surely there is money in the vast football coffer to do a bit of research on this? I live in hope but then I would because I’m a football fan.