Sometimes you do things even though you know they’re wrong, just because the time is right. Whether that’s eating one of those late-night pizzas that are essentially savoury fat-cakes; whether that’s dancing to Never Gonna Give You Up because, come on, it’s your best friend’s wedding; whether that’s watching one more hung-over Flight of the Conchords on a Saturday in your pyjamas rather than getting out to enjoy the lovely day. It’s not what you should do but the context makes it permissible.
Those are all examples of nice things, of course, but there’s a flipside. As Leeds’ perhaps inevitable second goal went in against nine-man Bristol City from the boot of Ross McCormack, in the snow, on a bitterly cold day, ensuring that a thoroughly miserable afternoon would, indeed, end in the defeat that had looked likely since James Wilson’s dismissal (let alone Yannick Bolasie’s later on) as I watched on feeling the after-effects of the previous night’s drinking endeavours I thought for almost the first time about leaving early.
I know. It’s wrong, it’s wrong – and yet it felt eminently sensible as the game (in which so much had gone wrong it became some kind of caricature of a bad time at the football) finally got away from us for good, despite the best efforts of nine fairly valiant players. What was the point in staying? The result was certain and I really was very cold. A lot of people around me started to leave that point and there was a great deal of logic in it – I was there to watch Luciano Becchio smash home the irrelevant third, they were in a warm car or public house with the results starting to come in.
But if there’s one theme that’s coming through these blogs of mine, it’s that football support is deeply, deeply irrational. There’s no quantifiable reason for staying but I did anyway. Why?
Not much is likelier to start an argument amongst fans on forums than the issue of early leavers. Those who resolutely stay until the end chuck the usual invective at those who have the temerity to miss a few minutes of football. They’re “part-timers”, they’re “not proper fans”. And of course that’s part of what keeps you in your seat. It’s that shared masochism; that bit of you that says that you only count as a fan if you’ve been there for every second of the most painful games. It’s building up credit for those scab-removal pleasant conversations you’ll have in the future about the worst times following City. It’s where the gallows humour comes from, the bond formed by staring at adversity and coming out the other side. It’s the same thing that caused Ross to ring me from Ashton Gate when we were 4-0 down to Cardiff at half time a couple of years ago. (I was in London watching Slumdog Millionaire, and I couldn’t really concentrate after that point – I think he wins the million quid but I’m not really sure how.)
There’s a sense that if you’ve made the laudable decision to follow the local team as opposed to one of the title-winning giants from the North-West or London, you’ve signed up for a fair old chunk of misery anyway, together with a huge pile of boredom and the odd good afternoon. Why, then, leave when another iteration of the misery rolls into town? If you don’t like this stuff then frankly you’re in the wrong place. I think most fans understand this at our level, which is why the sod-this effect is more pronounced when the larger clubs get done at home. Witness the banks and banks of empty seats at Old Trafford this season after Man City went 4-1 up.
That’s why the comparison with other forms of entertainment doesn’t quite hold true. People ask sometimes whether you’d miss as much of a gig or a film. Well, no, because one assumes you’d enjoy the film or the gig – and if you don’t you’d probably leave well before the end. When I went to see Pulp several times last summer, I was pretty sure that they’d play songs I like, and that Jarvis would still have his charisma. I wasn’t disappointed. The equivalent would be expecting City to win 3-0 every week, Albert Adomah nutmegging every opposition defender repeatedly, and only leaving if that didn’t happen. Only a few fans get that every week and that’s probably why they deal with defeat so spectacularly badly.
There aren’t many gigs so bad that they physically hurt you though – and that’s what you do get at football. When it’s just staggeringly awful, upsettingly, distressingly so, it would take a harder heart than mine to blame those streaming out. Sometimes you just can’t bear to watch any more.
I didn’t think Leeds was that bad because you could almost write it off. We didn’t lose 3-0 because we were awful, we lost 3-0 because one defensive lapse was followed by two moments of naiveté. Given that two of the three goals came after we were reduced to nine men, given the way we played 11v11, it wasn’t a game that could really hurt because the result didn’t mean anything bigger. It wasn’t a sign that we’re an awful side. It wasn’t relegation. It was just a stupidly bad game of football. So while it’s hard to blame the guys around me who left early, I didn’t ever feel like joining them. I was happy watching 20 men, lost in the snow.