“Enjoy the Game!” is the final tannoy announcement before Newcastle United kick-off these days.
Hmmm, chances are, I won’t enjoy the game.
As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t gathered at St James Park to be entertained like some visiting tourist. In other circumstances/areas of life I can understand “Enjoy the movie” or “enjoy your meal” being offered my way, but sorry, not for the match.
If I go to the movies then, to be honest, I expect to be entertained. Hollywood knows the importance of that and you’ll rarely see someone leave a film halfway through – but “Enjoy the Game”?
I don’t know about you but I have come here to win, for me that’s the important thing. It’s so critical, I expect I’m going to suffer and worry for the next 90 minutes. I’ll wince over every stray pass, groan when we miss a tackle and grimace over any missed goal scoring chance.
God forgive me if I think one of our players isn’t trying hard enough…
Of course today I might just have to accept that the other team might be better than us or even (I can barely write this), want it more. Where’s the potential enjoyment in this? And don’t get me started on the joke of a ref and their assistants…
Ok, I’m maybe I’m a little guilty of cup half empty syndrome. Yes, we might score, but even that I’ll probably welcome it with a clenched fist, more with relief than pleasure. And then I’ll start to worry that we’ll go all defensive, or we’ll not be able to hold on until the final whistle. I’ll have to endure the time counting down while I encourage the players to waste time and help us get over the line. So no, I won’t be sitting munching overpriced popcorn, hot-dogs or nachos and enjoying the show.
If you speak with ex-players they will tell you the same. Rarely do they enjoy the game either. More than a few will be being physically sick with worry in the toilet beforehand. Ask Gary Neville – chronic pre-match barfer. Maybe if you’re 4-0 up with 15 minutes to play and cruising but normally, like us, players are far too pre-occupied with the job in hand. To do everything to ensure they have the measure of the man in front of them, 90 minutes and more of total concentration. It’s not about enjoyment.
Now of course there will be occasional moments of brilliance that will brighten any game and allow a brief period of relapse and release for us all. I’ll always remember Asprilla’s red wine fuelled debut against the Boro, his sublime hat-trick against Barcelona, Shearer’s volley against Everton and the fightback against Arsenal. I even can appreciate the other side at times.
Such as when Jurgen Klinsmann played for Spurs against us at the height of his powers in 1995. I can still see him beating three of our players with a couple of touches, missing a penalty, and still being the talisman for them in a breathless game that ended 3-3. At the time Keegan said “it was the greatest advert for football I’ve seen this season. There weren’t any people queuing outside, asking for their money back, that’s for sure.”
Games and moments like this do bring enormous pleasure at the time and also live on long after the final whistle, warmly spoken about over a reflective pint reminding us all why it’s rightly called the beautiful game.
According to legendary film director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire & Olympic opening ceremonies), who knows about these things. There is a saying in Hollywood: “There are only two parts to a movie that are important – the beginning and the end. And the end is far more important than the beginning.” Think Star Wars, Jedis and Death Stars. And there perhaps is the only similarity.
For me the most and only important part of the match is the ending. Whether I watch Match of the Day or not comes down to one thing. Did we beat the Dark Side or not?
I don’t come to be entertained – I’m here to urge us on to win with all I’ve got.
So please Mr Tannoy, how about dropping “Enjoy the Game” and have a little bit more “Howay the Lads!”