It’s been positive start to the season for Rovers, which has in turn brought a surreal matchday optimism to the Keepmoat. For most of us this has been a novel, and rather pleasant, paradigm shift, following the relentless dread and anguish that has plagued recent years. But do remember to spare a thought for those among us for whom such joys bring nothing but grey clouds.
There’s someone sits near me at home games, to whom – having listened to him whinging ever since we left Belle Vue – I refer to on Twitter as ‘Miserable Old Guy’. This particular species of football fan is rather abundant, and I’ve often pondered what, if anything, such people gain from following the fortunes of a football club.
For MOG, a long-time critic of James Coppinger (‘Should’ve gotten rid of him years ago!’ ‘He’s stealing a living! Useless!’), this season has mostly been a sulk. Gone are the derisive cries of laughter every time our defence ships a goal (‘Of course they were about to score! Any idiot can see how shit we are! Get ‘em all off, we’re useless!’) Gone is the hysterical glee that accompanies ‘Come and sit up here with us, you utter disgrace!’ each time a single pass goes astray. Gone are the cries of ‘Don’t pass it to him, he’s bloody rubbish!’ less than ten seconds after kick off – although given this particular ditty was directed at Curtis Main, he may have had a point. However, anyone who can say with a straight face that they’ve been watching Rovers for over forty years but have never seen anything as shit as Sean O’Driscoll ‘s Championship team was most likely in a coma for at least three quarters of that time.
So far this season, his relative silence has been a Godsend to those of us around him, although Coppinger has still been the recipient of some of his ire on the basis of ‘Why wasn’t he playing like this last season? He’s lazy, that’s why!’
Of course, everyone has a right to voice their opinions or complaints in a free country, and in spite of the exceedingly regular threats that he ‘won’t be bothering coming back here again’ he’s continued to pay his dues and take his seat. Which leads me back to my earlier question – what value do people like this gain from being football fans?
Without knowing the person behind the misery, there could be all number of explanations for his attitude – tragic historical events, unspoken heartbreaks, a lifetime of swimming upstream only for The Man to kick him back from whence he came. Perhaps football serves as his only available outlet for all manner of psychological pain, and somehow, being able to project this onto James Coppinger allows him to continue functioning in the rest of his life. Never let it be said that we aren’t complicated beings.
As an eternal optimist when it comes to Rovers, it’s easy for me to dismiss this predetermined pessimism. As they say, it’s the hope that kills you – as I’m sure many Brentford fans would have agreed after that Marcello Trotta penalty. And it can be argued that we owe the entirety of modern civilisation to those ancestors of ours who stood up and refused to accept the status quo, thereby inspiring change and progress.
But does the same thing follow in football? Are players and teams inspired to progress by the misery of those they are supposedly representing? Or do they gain the necessary extra yard of pace or ounce of strength from knowing their fans will always lift them up again, even if they fail, provided they gave their best?
Of course, footballers can’t be generalised as they are all different – some will run faster to escape the fear of failure, whereas others will spring forward to stretch for their ambitions. Perhaps both philosophies have their place within the game, and the secret to being a good manager is to identify which strategy works best for which player. But surely, it can’t be motivational for anyone to be screamed at about how shit they are, consistently, for years on end?
Maybe the only conclusion that can be drawn from all this is that MOG and his ilk aren’t there to support the team, but come to games in the hope of being witness to disaster. Failings that would vindicate their perspective on the world and provide them with the kind of small, petty victory that comes from being right, rather than righteous. After all, some people choose pessimism as their mantra for life on the basis that if you always expect the very worst, you can’t ever be disappointed.
Perhaps by being an optimist in the Keepmoat, it’s actually me that’s wrong – perhaps by enjoying both the ups and the downs as part of the overall journey I’m some kind of sycophant who doesn’t take defeat or failure personally enough. Perhaps Rovers would be in the Champions League by now if I’d only join in a screaming chorus of abuse whenever a long ball is misplaced by a yard or two. Maybe if we all spent weekdays miserable and bubbling with rage, ready to explode at the nearest footballing target come Saturday afternoons, the collective climate of fear would ensure success is guaranteed.
But would this be worth it? Would football be a source of pleasure for anybody in this scenario? What is the point of supporting a team if your attitude to their most recent promotion was ‘They shouldn’t have bothered, it’s obvious we’d get murdered in the Championship.’
Football as a whole is an ongoing serial drama with fascinating intricacies and sub-plots – but what it lacks is any discernible destination, or finale. Whilst each season’s chapter can be a miniseries of its own, with a beginning, a middle, and a twist at the end, there’s no over-riding arc to the storyline. We aren’t one day going to finally make it to the Promised Land and wander off into the sunset, putting all that drama behind us forever.
The journey is all there is. It will ebb and flow in all its grotesque glory at least until someone, somewhere, comes up with a better alternative. Surely we might as well try to enjoy it?
This article was first printed in issue 84 of popular STAND fanzine, which was published in October 2016. popular STAND prints six issues per season, and subscriptions are available anywhere in the world.