Why I’ll always be a sporting loser

My favourite football team lost to another football team last weekend and this made me want to roll around the floor kicking and punching the ground like a small child. The defeat was hard to take but what disappointed me most was I thought I’d moved beyond letting the inability of young men to kick a ball affect me like this.

My teens and twenties were spent having my emotions kicked all over the pitches of Ireland. It was a rollercoaster existence and, frankly, no way to live.

In recent years I’d managed to smash the emotional chains that bound me to the feet of young men. “I’m mildly disappointed now,” I’d tell myself, “but it is illogical to allow the sporting travails of these young fellows impact my joie de vivre.” I’d say it in French to emphasise how clever I was. I’d then skip into the distance, offering a haughty chuckle at how foolish I once was.

But on Friday I fell off the wagon. Driving home from Tallaght Stadium, I fought back tears like someone who made the mistake of watching Marley & Me on a first date. By Saturday, grief had given way to anger. I attacked the day in Victor Meldrew mode. I stomped through the streets. An inanimate object accused me of having removed something from the bagging area and my venom may have brought forward the rise of the robots by a decade.

Throughout my tantrum, I knew how ridiculous I was being. I knew the result had affected my life in no way other than to catapult me into a sulk my two-year-old niece would have been ashamed of. But yet there I was: arms folded, lip quivering, drowning in a pathetic sea of self-loathing.

Why do we let sport do this to us? More specifically, why do men let sport do this to them? Women are too clever to wallow in an existential crisis every time a ball doesn’t go where they want it to go. Men go through their entire lives hiding their emotions from the people closest to them. Weddings and funerals pass without a moist eye, but all it takes is for a 21-year-old to put a ball in their team’s net and they collapse wailing like an eleven-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert.

This can be excused in our youth, when we have no responsibilities or understanding of the actual disappointments that await us in adulthood, but that excuse is long gone. I have a mortgage, a wife, a job and have to somehow navigate through a boom-bust economy in a world standing on the brink of a superpower war. Yet my only genuine worry is whether a 19-year-old from west Dublin will recover from a knee injury in time for the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

Age should bring with it a natural mental distancing. When I was 20, the players were contemporaries. It was conceivable we could be friends and they could one day point at me in the crowd and beg: “Eoghan, we need your help!” These days, I’m older than the manager. If, following some sort of apocalyptic last-man-on-earth situation, I was called into action, I’d tear my cruciate climbing onto the pitch.

The coming summer should represent a glorious opportunity to indulge emotional fools like me. It’s World Cup time – a month-long Mardi Gras during which I’m likely to do silly things like pull sick days so as I can watch Ghana take on South Korea. Thankfully FIFA has contrived a plan to stop me jeopardising my career. They have teamed-up with Russia, a marriage that has all the romance of a weekend at Nancy and Sid’s. It’s almost impossible to care about this year’s tournament. Never before has a World Cup had such little build-up, other, of course, than the ongoing build-up of troops.

Thankfully, Russian agents will harvest my data and spend the next two months serving a relentless diet of emotionally-charged social media messages. By the time Uruguay play Saudi Arabia I will be welling up during the anthems and thumping my chest with imagined Latino pride.

Because that’s what I’ve come to accept about sport: regardless of who wins, I’ll always be the loser.

Originally published in The Times Ireland Edition, April 19th. 

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