It is something that I have been doing since I was very young; initially it was at the instigation of my Dad, who in many ways is as hopeless as I am; but as I got older and able to go on my own, it developed into more and more of a habit that seems to be evolving and taking on a life of its own.
It isn’t just based on following my team, although attendance at 30-35 plus Arsenal matches a season says enough about me; but it is the other more random trips to matches across Europe and the rest of the world that form the more worrying part.
Ever since my first match back in the late 70’s I have had what can probably only be described as a football-attending addiction; if someone asks me if I want to go to a match or I have the possibility of going to see a game, no matter who is playing or where it is, I find it very difficult to say no. Worse still, there is a feeling of guilt and regret that builds up inside me if I can’t go, as if I am somehow missing my fix and won’t be ok again until I am able to go to a match. I have been known to actually get angry with the Arsenal Box Office website if I don’t have enough away credits to get a ticket for a match that I have decided that I want to go to.
Only the other day, one of the lads that I play five-a-side with said that he felt he should go to Dulwich Hamlet because of the good work they do with the community and the way they have positioned themselves as a very liberal South London manifestation of St Pauli; I immediately found myself mentally committing to going to a game there and internally cursing Our Kid for moving away from Dulwich, as going to visit him would have given me the perfect excuse!
I find myself drawing up mental lists of grounds that I am going to go to and teams that I am going to see; note the phrasing, this isn’t about ‘wanting to…’ or ‘one day I would love to go to…’, there is a way stronger commitment than that. Up until now though I have never really considered why I do this? What possesses me to fly halfway across the world for my honeymoon (which was of course decided upon before the wedding!… and at my wife-to-be’s suggestion, I hasten to add!) to watch games between teams that I have no vested interest in? (Argentina v Bosnia and Spain v Chile, in case you were wondering!)
On a recent trip to Valencia (Valencia 1 Atletico Madrid 3 at the Mestalla, just for the record!) my wife asked me whether these trips were about one-upmanship, about showing off to other people who might not be quite as hopeless as I am. I really don’t think that is the explanation, it really is about me being there, I am not massively interested in even telling other people.
Addiction is defined as compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences; with rewarding stimuli being characterized by being both reinforcing (ie they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (ie something perceived as being positive or desirable). The implication of that definition would seem to confirm that I am indeed addicted to going to football matches, but the rewarding stimuli in my case go way beyond the simple result of the game, although this does form part of it.
As somewhat of an introvert with a slight tendency towards misanthropy, being there and somehow being surrounded by a football crowd, by people who I assume are just as obsessed as I am, is one of the only places that I feel I belong. I understand how it works, I understand what I am watching, what to look for and how to behave. For me it is the being there that is the crucial foundation of my addiction, but this combines with the flip side of a fear of not being there, of missing out in some way, of someone finding out that I had a chance to go to a match but didn’t go. Quite what I think is going to happen to me, or what people are going to think of me for not going, isn’t quite clear? In all reality the addictive compulsion to feel that I have to go at all is the most worrying trait.
Quite where this leaves me I am not sure. I guess the initial theme and motivation behind this post was to try and make sense of this compulsive addiction, this obsession with going to football matches, in the hope that I might be able to justify it, to explain it, to make it seem normal; but in all reality, in seeking to understand it and define it, all I have managed to do is to reinforce how hopeless it is.
All of which leaves me with the question of what I do about it? A rational non-addict might try and manage the compulsion, to realise that attendance at a football match is an enjoyable leisure pursuit which you can choose to attend and enjoy just like any other manner in which you choose to spend your leisure time. Somehow though that doesn’t seem like me; I could in theory, based on Arsenal’s recent form, choose not to go to the match this weekend, but the mere thought of that has made me start to panic, my heart to beat faster and to start to break out in a cold sweat; I know exactly where I will be at 3pm on Saturday, having of course got there at least an hour before kick-off to make sure I wasn’t late!