5% of football justifies the remaining 95%. You spend so much time, money and mental energy on travelling to games, watching 90 minutes of misplaced challenges and defensive errors, come away beaten and wonder what you could have been doing with all that money on all those Saturdays. But occasionally, along comes a game that reminds you why you do it. Specifically it reminds you that there are feelings that lucre and relaxed weekends along just won’t give you.
I’m not going to pull the old rhetorical switcheroo here. This really was one of those afternoons, and to be a bit more specific Albert Adomah’s performance was about as good an attacking display as I’ve ever seen from a home player at Ashton Gate. It was one of those days where every time he got the ball, the decibels pushed on up as he pushed on forward, and most of the time he justified the expectation, claiming the opening goal and setting Maynard on his way to score the deflected winner.
What those 5% of football matches give you is a buzz that I’m not going to even try to quantify. There’s no feeling like it and I’d have no idea where to start if asked to explain it to a football sceptic. It doesn’t have anything to do with the rational mind, it’s all working at what I unscientifically feel must be the back of the brain. It’s visceral, exhilaration rather than reason. It’s a diluted version of how players must feel when they hit the back of the net, the feeling they call “better than sex”. Now, let’s not get carried away here and if I had to choose only one of the two for life then football would go I’m afraid, but there are parallels here – every run of Adomah’s, every raking crossfield pass from Kilkenny, every time Maynard brings the ball under control in the box, the expectancy rises. Somewhere in the minds of the watching thousands, a gate opens and adrenalin, and hormones, start to pour through, more and more as an attack develops and the chance gets clearer, more and more and higher and louder is the voice and more involuntary are the thrusts forward as we lose control of our bodies and then...
(Or, more commonly, frustration and an unwillingness to look your partner in the eye – but let’s go with ecstasy today.)
I’m convinced that this is why attacking players nearly always win the Player of the Year awards (one goalkeeper and three defenders have one the Ballon d’Or ever. So no Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi or Dino Zoff, but prizes for Owen, Keegan and Papin). There’s nothing inherently more memorable about a goal than a goal-saving tackle, it doesn’t take more skill to do one than the other – indeed given that a striker can take three chances out of eight and be a hero, yet a defender must make eight blocks out of eight in order even to be noticed, one could argue it’s far more difficult. But we remember the times our bodies got caught up in it all and our mental chemistry was left scrambled. We go, in the crudes possible terms, for the fuck of the year, which you wouldn’t think you’d get from Lionel Messi to look at him but there you go.
I accept that conceptualising it this way is a bit awkward but it makes me feel even more satisfied that preening gratification-junkie Cristiano Ronaldo spent the entirety of last season coming second.
This, of course, has led to a rise in football journalism of the New Seriousness – of trying to think with the Id rather than the Ego, of looking at the unhighlighted player and saying, look, you thought Man Utd’s treble was largely down to the midfield but it was really Ronnie Johnsen what done it. I think there’s a belief that highbrow football appreciation should be about more than that, that sophistication demands a different weighting of qualities, that a 45-yard screamer is just a big hit and not, therefore, the Goal of the Tournament winner that Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s effort so manifestly was. (Tyldesley’s description here of this goal having “a touch of fantasy” makes my case rather eloquently for me, I think.)
It’s a view I have a lot of sympathy for but it’s essentially a sexless position, it’s about being sober, dispassionate, uninvolved and all those other things that make for a great atmosphere at the Emirates every weekend. A great defensive performance is a thing of beauty, of mastery of a craft, something which can be enjoyed in a professorial manner. So’s a really, really well-made bed. It’s not to the detriment of either the defender or the bed that their role will rightly be forgotten come the climax. Indeed it may seem unfair that they don’t get the recognition they deserve. But we’ve established that going to football is a mad, mad thing to do, that there are far better ways to spend one’s life. Rationality, like defending, like owning a bloody good bed, can only take you so far. At the peak of the peaks you’re deserted by rationality and consumed by joy – and it’s those moments, and who took you there, that you’ll remember for ever.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that when I claimed at the end that Liam Fontaine was the man of the match, I was right to highlight his defensive excellence but I was revealing myself as a bit of a geek. Because in my hind-brain, which I listen to less than I should, it was Adomah all day long.