It’s The Hope That Kills You

It’s The Hope That Kills You
June 14, 2012 Chris Rowland

By TTT subscriber James Keen (aka jimtheoracle). 

The greatest obstacle to happiness is the expectation of too great a happiness

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle – 1724.

 James closely examines what goes to form football fans’ expectations, opinions and assessments of the club, its manager and coaching staff and its individual players; the part played by the media and pundits in shaping those expectations; and how the complex is so often reduced to over-simplicity, and how that has particularly affected Liverpool FC’s media treatment. 

Football fans are generally by their very nature optimistic creatures (although there are substantial numbers of eternal pessimists amongst us too – Ed). Despite any misgivings they may have as soon as the whistle goes they will believe their team is capable of victory. It is a game where eleven men on a pitch represent the hopes and dreams of millions of spectators who live vicariously through their heroes who are lucky enough to wear their club’s much-coveted shirt. The sport is capable of generating the highest highs and conversely the lowest lows. Supporting a team is not a casual hobby, it is all-encompassing, a person’s life is mapped through events connected with the club. This obsession has its downsides; one is that in desperation to discover early knowledge of any new development at the club, in the hope that that piece of information will be the one that will transform the team into world-beaters, many fans spend an inordinate amount of time trawling websites, newspapers and exchanging gossip and stories in the pub. The effect of this media compost of uncontrolled and uncorroborated information laced with hearsay and idle gossip is to drive the 24-hour news cycle. The more manure you can shovel into the top of the machine, the more supporters will compulsively lap up what is produced. Especially if the end product is being backed by a “trustworthy” media source.

Football clubs brief the press and put misinformation into the media sphere, fan sites publish articles and information claiming to have the insider knowledge previously denied to anyone but the local journalist who had the manager’s ear. There are almost as many fans claiming to be “in the know” (it even has its own acronym, ITK) as there are fans. Consequently these stories are used to feed the media narrative without too much consideration as to the veracity of the claims within them.

Currently FSG are trying to find several vital employees at Liverpool and only appointed a new manager two weeks ago, but the fans and journalists have been arguing over the fabricated rumours as if they are facts. As fans we are all aware of what happens when Liverpool sign a new player, we want to know as early as possible, we want to run our own scouting mission on Youtube, we want to know what the tactical plan is and we want to do all of this before the ink is dry on the contract. But is this voracious appetite for knowledge and discussion of the game actually harming the way we view it?

Liverpool were supposed to finish fourth this season, they were supposed to compete in the Premier League and bring the club and its supporters closer to that elusive nineteenth title. Everyone knew the team was capable of that this season. The newspapers told us, the TV pundits told us and eventually those hopes became unwavering demands upon the team and players. The statement “Liverpool should be competing for the Champions League places” became a truism. Everybody knew the team was terrible, everybody knew the club was implicitly supporting a racist. Of course this line of thinking completely disregards context and nuance but it does seem to have been the extent of their thinking. To these eyes it appears to show all their workings as well. There was no real analysis about the players or the fact that the club was 18 months from narrowly avoiding oblivion, and there was no real analysis of the other teams and how difficult it was going to be to get into the top four, especially alongside all the other competitions and distractions that attach themselves to a football club during the season. But none of this can possibly have been looked at when the experts came to their opinions. It seems reasonable to suspect that they simply saw the name Liverpool and observed that the club had spent over £100 millions gross on transfers. Therefore instantly they would be restored to perennial Champions League contenders. It seemed not to dawn on any of them, but in the two years before this season (2011/12) the club lost Alonso, Torres, Mascherano, Arbeloa, Benayoun, Aquilani and Hyppia. Some of those were self-inflicted losses but that is an astonishingly gifted group of players to have lost, particularly if you consider that that is seven members of a very good team.

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