Monday, June 25, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Existentialism. Now, there's a topic. I don't really want to delve too deeply into the subject (not least because I try to hide my ignorance of this sort of thing on here), but a discussion that I had in the pub yesterday afternoon set me thinking. Now, any discussion of this particular philosophical strand can be a depressing matter and I certainly don't want the suicide of any number of Boston United supporters on my conscience, but have you ever stopped to think... what, really, is it all about? It's a thought that has crossed my mind more and more over the last few years or so. I'd like to think that Albert Camus, the patron saint of this little blog, might approve of this - even if he wouldn't have approved of some of my grammar or my clumsily over-long sentences.

I ask the question now because we were discussing the small matter of what it's like to get promotion after a long period of waiting. My companion was telling me about a Wolves fan that he knows. For years and years, her sole ambition had been for Wolves to get into the Premier League. Their comically ill-starred attempts to get promoted throughout the 1990s were well documented at the time and continue to be now. Then, suddenly and quite out of the blue, in 2003 Wolves were promoted through the play-offs. You'd think that it would be the greatest thing that could ever happen to her. Well, not quite.

Once in the Premier League, Wolves had a wretched time of it. There were small high points, such as their 1-0 win against Manchester United, but they were relegated with three matches to spare, and finished bottom of the table on just thirty-three points. And she had hated it. For all those years, getting into the Premier League had been the "holy grail" - simultaneously visible on the horizon at the same time as being tantalisingly out of reach but, once they managed it, our plucky heroine found herself paying more than she ever had done before for the privilege of seeing her team taking a damn good thrashing, week in, week out. I feel her pain, though the circumstances at St Albans have been somewhat different. Watching St Albans play football could be described as being akin to the old truism that "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans". After their formation in 1908, they rushed through the leagues into the Isthmian League, and won that three times in five years after joining, before settling down to an altogether more sedate pace.

The Isthmian League, for many, many years, had no promotion or relegation, so there was nowhere really to go (they could have turned professional and joined the Southern League, but I can't find anything in the club's records suggesting that this was ever even discussed). They sat in the Isthmian League for over fifty years until 1974, when the League expanded to two divisions and they were relegated. When the Isthmian League expanded again in 1983, they contrived to get themselves relegated again, following this up with promotions in 1984 and 1986, whereupon the torpor set in again - or, to put it another way, they spent just twelve years out of eighty-two not playing at that level (and all twelve were at an even lower level) before, to the massive surprise of everyone at Clarence Park, getting promoted into the Conference at the end of the 2005/06 season. That little experiment lasted precisely one season, and now they're back in the Conference South. Almost, you could argue, as God intended.

The existentialists amongst you will already have figured what I'm getting at here. What's it all about? Now, the circumstances at St Albans were slightly different to those at Wolves. Wolves had been baying for Premiership football. Critics and hacks had been saying, with very little basis, that they were a "big" club that "deserved" Premier League football. The same could hardly be said of St Albans, whose appearances near the top of any league table in living memory (second in 1955, third in 1971, second in 1993 and 2006) have been so rare that they positively trip off the tongue. In spite of the gulf of difference in expectation, though, the feeling that I get is that the Conference for me was every bit as underwhelming an experience as the Premier League was for Wolves fans. The extra media attention was quite nice, but the higher prices weren't, and the continual heavy beatings weren't either.

Why do we keep going, then? Well, I guess that some people maximise their chances of winning by supporting successful clubs. Those of us nearer the bottom of the success pile, I rather suspect, tend to emphasise the social side of things above the actual football itself. I've spent many a Saturday afternoon in football club bars rather than watching the actual match itself (my personal record came in about 2003, when a friend and I lasted fully the first seven minutes of an FA Trophy match against Crawley Town before deciding that it was too cold and that the football was too awful, and retired to the bar for the rest of the afternoon - our decision was vindicated by a 0-0 draw), and I've found that, in recent years, the long distance solitary travelling has left me in a sufficiently "lubricated" state to be completely unable now to remember any of the details of what actually happened during the match. St Albans' Conference South decider against Weymouth in April of last year? The play-off final against Histon? Their first ever Conference match at Kidderminster last August? I was at all of them, and I know the scores of all them, but I can remember next to nothing about what actually happened. It's a good job that I'm not an aggressive drunk, or I'd probably be banned from every sporting venue in England by now.

I guess that the moral of all of this is, as the title of this piece suggests, be careful what you wish for - you might just get it. There are plenty of people that will tell you that it's better to have loved and lost than never to loved at all, but some of us get by perfectly well without any of those ecstatic highs and miserable lows, and it bothers us somewhat when the natural order of things is upset. Supporters of Rochdale, who are girding themselves for their thirty-fourth consecutive in Division 4/Division 3/League 2, will know what I mean here. For those of you now worrying that you'll begin next season wondering what the point of it all this, I will offer this one suggestion - Sainsbury's sell very neat 330ml cans of gin & tonic. Four of those on your way to the match and your existential angst will mysteriously start to lift.


colin said...

I don't find existentialism particularly depressing. Although I'm obviously really fucking cheerful.

Alexandra said...

I agree with colin; existentialism isn't depressing at all. It merely states that we build ourselves through our own actions and decisions and thus have no one to blame but ourselves for who we become. I guess this *could* be sorta depressing for those who would rather lay the blame on God, fate, our own 'nature', etc. for our own failures, but well, I don't think Sartre or Camus meant for us to kill ourselves at all.

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