It has long been my belief that football’s feverish popularity demands more explanation than the usual sport / tribal / male bonding stuff we hear.
For some years, I took my young son to watch Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The main result was that he learned to swear convincingly and with the correct intonation. The experience should have provided a clue.
This classic photo of Dele Alli taunting the crowd, after scoring the winner for Tottenham against Chelsea, makes everything clear and should put our minds at rest. Just out of shot is a big guy being physically held back by his mates – was he actually going to burst out and attack Alli? Or was it just bluster? A few weeks ago, there was a genuine crowd invasion at West Ham, with accompanying low level violence, leading to all kinds of condemnation and hand-wringing.
The role of football (please don’t call it soccer, even if you’re American) is to give a safe place to vent the pent up vitriol which would be unacceptable in normal daily life. A few minutes in the stands at any Premiership match should verify this. The hatred expressed – typically at your own players rather than (though also in addition to) opponents and, of course, the referee, can only be explained as some kind of perverse therapy.
The most unpleasant people I have ever met were parents watching (and screaming at) their sons in junior football matches. Here were people who would get into fights with each other in between taunting and belittling eleven year olds, with language to make your hair curl. I fully expect if you met those same people in any other walk of life, they’d be fine polite, upstanding members of the community.
So the fans screaming and gesticulating at Alli are probably the nicest of people, if you met them socially. Just avoid them on match day.