Dying for football

There is very little to compare to the exhilaration the true fan feels in a packed stadium when the teams come down the tunnel onto the pitch to the strains of the home team’s signature tune.

 (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
I am not one of those who is prepared to die for their football (soccer) team, but I do suffer a series of mini deaths during the season, and I have been known to stop breathing during a penalty shootout. The team to which my whole family is devoted is Everton, a name I hope will soon be on the lips of all football fans, as we have started the new COVID-era season toward the top of the English Premier League. Everton is one of two football teams in Liverpool, the other being Liverpool FC, which is always having a good season as everybody knows, since it recently won the title of best team in the world and was last season’s league champion.
I should explain that the city of Liverpool is nuts about football. It is virtually impossible to live there without supporting one or other of the two teams, whose stadiums are at opposite ends of a park, Goodison, home to Everton at one end, Liverpool’s Anfield at the other. In my day at the university, the Jews and Catholics tended to go with Everton and the Protestants with Liverpool, but we were all one big indivisible family when it came to games against Manchester United.
What accounts for the global phenomenon that is the English Premier League and the undoubtedly  universal passion for the so-called “beautiful game?” To begin with, a match between two first-class teams is an aesthetic pleasure to observe, a display of grace and strength. Then, there is very little to compare to the exhilaration the true fan used to feel in a packed stadium when the teams come down the tunnel on to the pitch to the strains of the home team’s signature tune. The spectator has entered a world apart from that which he, or increasingly she, inhabits in daily life. The feeling is like no other. Being in that place with fellow supporters brings a sense of liberation. It is permissible to shout, to hurl abuse, to hug your neighbor and to sing, which the average fan would not dream of doing anywhere else, except perhaps, failing the ability to get to the ground, he (or even she) is in the pub, the next best thing. All of this is, of course, thanks to a certain pandemic, on hold like the rest of our lives.
My daughter, having no choice, will be one in the pub in Austin, Texas. If one of my sons has not already called me, back in Jerusalem, to give me  his take on a match, who was rubbish and who was Man of the Match, my daughter, difficult to catch all week what with the eight hour time difference, will be on WhatsApp on her way home from the Haymaker in downtown Austin, to give me her version. She is now the vice president of the Austin Evertonians. Who would have believed there were Everton supporters in Texas? Football fans are like Israelis – they are everywhere a plane can take them. I have an Israeli friend who supports Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga and she saves up to travel to important matches there.
Football is an ice breaker. It has become a universal means of communication. In the days when I was bringing charitable funds to projects in east Jerusalem, my knowledge of which team was playing Bnei Sakhnin over the weekend, and where they stood in the league table, perceptibly changed teenage boys’ perception of me. And long, tedious taxi rides through London traffic to the airport were made more interesting on discovering that my Croatian driver had an expert knowledge of who would be Arsenal’s next manager.
Football fans are a classless society. The weekend match might be the highlight of a working person’s week, and that work could have been manual or academic or anything between. Famous intellectuals have written about it, leading directors have made films about it, novels have been written about it and serious journalists have studied it. TV journalist Tim Marshall has produced a book about football chants.
I like, “You’re nothing special; WE lose every week.” And the funniest and cleanest I have ever heard was at a Beitar Jerusalem match. A striker misses an easy goal. “You should have been a wedding photographer!” advised a voice from the crowd
If Marshall were to follow up with a study of team theme tunes, he would have to say that Liverpool is once again top of the leader board. “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” is a great choice because everybody knows the words and the tune, and when supporters are in full voice, it can fill a stadium. It is said that Liverpool supporters sign their letters, “Yours faithfully, YNWA.”
“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” brings on West Ham and “Red, Red Robbin,” Charlton. Ours is the theme tune from the old television series, “Z Cars.” It has no words. We save them for insulting ditties about Liverpool, all put to one side when tragedy strikes. The Everton team came on at Goodison Park to the strains of, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” after the Hillsborough disaster when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at a cup match.
In further solidarity, I will end with a famous quotation from Bill Shankley, a former Liverpool manager: “Football is not a matter of life and death,” he said. “It’s more important than that.” 
The writer is an author, former journalist and former head of the British Desk at the Jerusalem Foundation