Last night I was part of one of Europe’s greatest rivalry; Liverpool vs Manchester United. The match was a rather flat contest lacking intensity and quality especially if you consider the pre-match hype. This is nothing new if you look at how Jose Mourinho has played big clubs away over the past 12 years.
The most entertaining part of it was watching the fans where I was. Now, I know both Jose Mourinho an Jurgen Klopp have advisers and assistants, I just didn’t realise how many they were and how widespread their reach is.
Two hours before the game, different groups had formed discussing the starting line-ups for both squads. The main argument among Manchester United fans was whether Wayne Rooney should start or come of the bench. As debates reached fever pitch, an argument ensued and a fight stated; the fight was about who was better Rooney or Ruud Van Nielsterooy. The warring parties only ceased hostilities when they realised the Liverpool camp was laughing and making fun of them. They could not allow ‘their’ team to be seen as having uncivilised members. Back to the match preparation.
An hour before kick-off, someone from the Liverpool camp started singing the praises of Steven Gerrard and called him the greatest captain ever. The United camp retorted by declaring Roy Keane the greatest captain ever. As the back and forth argument ensued, another fight broke out, this time pitting both camps; defending the honour of their respective captains. The fight ceased when the lyrics of “You’ll never walk alone” started blaring through the speakers. Peace at last?
As the match went on, there were arguments and near brawls about decisions but peace generally prevailed. After the match however, an argument ensued about which was the bigger club; the one with more league championships or the one with more Champions league crowns. As was the case before, a fight ensued this time pitting two cousins who were on opposing sides. Too tired to witness the fight and the aftermath, I left and went home.
This got me thinking, how deep can a rivalry be that people all the way in a Kampala, Uganda suburb are willing to fight and embarrass themselves over proceedings taking place over 10,500 kms away from them.
What defines a rivalry and what makes us subscribe to it even if we have no idea how or why it exists? Why does a Real Madrid fan in South America attack a Barcelona fan in Africa even if they are meeting for the first time? Injuries have occurred and lives been lost just because of a sporting result. I wonder do the players think of this when they step onto the field; that their performance will influence behaviours several thousand kms away from them? Should they?
Passion for your team and all they ascribe to is alright, but limits must be set as to how far is too far. Just because your team hates another is no reason to get into brawls with their supporters.
Everybody plays sports when they’re young. As we grow older size, talent and luck separates us. Some are blessed to go to the field while the rest of us are tasked with talking about them and telling them what to do (even though we would not have a clue how to do it if tasked to do it!). Sports allows us to escape reality and for a brief moment to celebrate being the best.
There is a line in the Desiderata that says “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself…” Sports debunks that and allows us to proclaim “I’m the greatest!” even if it is for just a fleeting second.
During the 1990 football World cup, my favourite player was Andreas Brehme. I admired him for his cool demeanour on the pitch and his ability to play with both feet. Around me everyone was either a Diego Maradona or Lothar Mattheus fan. Being from Africa, we also had a special love for Roger Milla. When he scored the winning goal in the final, I felt like a king, I had earned bragging rights as ‘my man’ had done what Maradona and Mattheus could not, score the winning goal in a World cup final.
Therein lies the beauty of sports, the ability to celebrate another’s success as if it was your own and to console in their sorrow as if it was a direct hit at you. It is this passion that gives us a sense of ownership and identity with our team.