I’ve been a sports widow since I met my husband almost 19 years ago (with the exception of our first few weeks together, when he was trying to make a good impression).
True story: he dumped me on our first wedding anniversary to go and play in a golf tournament with his Dad. I suppose he was starting as he meant to go on.
His banter with his mates around football tournaments, his mind-numbing (to me) chatter with other blokes about football statistics, and my long running acceptance that when there’s a big match on, I’m on my own, are all things I’ve accepted as part and parcel of our relationship.
But I’ve never really got the sports obsession.
Not until yesterday, when I was watching the England vs Germany match with my son.
My husband was in Wales watching it with his family, all of them undoubtedly willing England to lose, such is the Welsh’s disdain for the English in sport.
When the camera panned across the face of the exultant England fans after their final winning goal, I could see the glee, witness their embraces, feel their joy through the roaring of the crowd!
Then the camera took in the dejection of the German supporters, I saw them consoling each other, disappointment writ large on their face, their melancholy palpable, and I finally understood, after all these years, what men get out of football.
They get to express pure and unbridled emotion on a level not normally accepted for men in our society. They get to hug their mates, jump up and down in childlike glee, shout out in joy or cry out in frustration, even cry real tears.
They get an emotional outlet.
In a society where men are traditionally only expected to show strong emotions in situations where they’ve lost a loved one, competitive sports offer an environment where they can express themselves freely, and without judgement.
All that sharing of football statistics is actually a bonding strategy (and a good tactic to free men from their women folk, who often can’t stand to listen).
The support of a team gives a sense of community and a sense of camaraderie, the ‘we’ of a team is felt as surely as if the spectator were a player.
My 9 year old son is only just starting to show an interest in football.
He’s rooting for Belgium in this particular Euro’s tournament because that was the name he pulled out of the hat in school.
As someone who’s moved about a bit, I love that he hasn’t got any strong patriotic affiliation with a particular team.
His biggest concern when Wales were playing Denmark was that his Dad and Bampi (Welsh term for Grandad) wouldn’t support Denmark with him (he wanted Denmark to win as he felt they were less of a threat to Belgium!)
It’s the tribalism associated with football that can sometimes lead to the darker side of the game, so I’m all for enjoying sport without any strong connections to a particular team.
So the next time I see my husband on the edge of his seat, wringing his hands and squirming like an excited school boy, I’m going to smile. I’m always asking him how he’s feeling (his standard response is ‘not too bad’) and when he’s watching sport, it’s right there for me to see.
I realise this week’s post is full of generalisations. I know there are plenty of men out there who don’t like sports, and plenty of women who do. I know there are plenty of men who are perfectly comfortable showing their emotions and plenty of women who aren’t. I’m know I'm generalising to traditional roles, but with a football mad husband who does not wear his heart on his sleeve, traditional has been my experience.
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