This past weekend of European soccer was a strange one, in which the hands of fate conspired to turn two sets of fans into enemies of their own team. In the English Premier League, Liverpool fans cheered as their team went down to Chelsea 2-0, because this result would keep their hated rivals, Manchester United, in second place. They actually jeered their own team when it looked like they were trying to mount an attack or get some shots on goal. The same dynamic occurred in Italy as well, with Lazio fans, in their own home ground, joining with Inter fans to cheer the defeat of the team they support, as this would help prevent the hated Roma from gaining ground in the title race.
The television commentators for the Lazio-Inter game expressed a subdued sense of disgust at the way the match unfolded, feeling that the Lazio players were basically going through the motions, and not really attempting to win. The same accusations were leveled at Liverpool players as well. I think it is fair to say that there is definitely some truth to these comments for anyone who watched the performances on the field. Likely these players knew what the fans expected of them, and were not about to cross some of the most powerful supporters’ groups on the continent.
So what are football/soccer fans motivated more by: love or hate? Based on Saturday’s evidence, it seems that hate of the enemy is the dominant impulse, if one is willing to wish and cheer for the defeat of one’s own team. If one, in fact, expects players to not put in their full effort in order to spite one’s rivals. I asked myself when watching the Lazio game if I would do the same. If the Quakes getting defeated would prevent the Scumaxy (or L.A. Galaxy as they’re known by some) from winning the championship, would I cheer the opposing team, if the result meant little for my own team? I think the reality is that I probably would.
This all makes sense in the context of the sport we love, but what about in the political sphere? Don’t leftists and those committed to change often cheer our own defeat, with the feeling that we are at least preventing the victory of our rivals? I found myself during these last presidential elections hoping for an Obama victory, even though I knew it would do nothing substantial for everyday people, just because it would sit uneasily in the stomachs of the many consciously and subconsciously bigoted people in the country. Isn’t it true that, at times, we invest emotion and energy in organizations, unions, non-profits, and politicians that not only represent values that don’t sit well with our own beliefs, but that actually represent our own defeat? Far right wing forces are certainly our most hated and dangerous enemy. Not just the Tea Party extremists, but the politicians and people with power who pursue the neoliberal agenda with the most gusto (like Bush and company). They are certainly the Man United to our Liverpool (or vice versa).
But what about the others who also represent our defeat? The Chelsea to our Liverpool in this analogy. At the end of the day we have to figure out what we are doing here. Are we simply playing a game of biding our time, and wishing simply that the worst of our enemies doesn’t win out, or are we aiming to win the whole thing? Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, we are actually somewhere around Scunthorpe United (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what division they are playing in or who they are, apologies to Scunthorpe fans). If we are ever going to realize our dreams, we need to be committed to building ourselves up, piece by piece, in a long and patient process that means building a spirit that resists all defeat, from all comers. The love, pride and hope for our own “club” must come first now, as the hate has us stuck permanently at mid-table.