Champions’ League final: there is no such thing as destiny in football, only ‘on the night’.

The Slog delves into the psychopathology of the footie fan

Soccer supporters are, like footballers themselves, notoriously superstitious. Today is a big day for me: the team I’ve supported since 1955 is playing in the Champions’ League Final at Wembley. And already I don’t like the portents.

For one thing, our opponents (the ‘we’ by the way is Manchester United, our opponents Barcelona) are bending over backwards to tell the press how much United have improved since Barca gave us a football lesson in the 2008 final. They fear and respect us, they say. This is all part of the psyching out – or ‘kidology’ as we used to call it – designed to render my team complacent and puffed up with hubris. This always makes me certain the opposition will stick two goals up us in the first ten minutes.

Looking at the media this morning, my sense of foreboding is getting worse. This is Ferguson’s hour of destiny, they allege. Rooney has matured into the man who can beat Barcelona, say others. Worst of all, David Pleat is tipping us to win – an absolutely terrible sign.

Given that Barca still have the genius Messi in their side – and we no longer have the flawed showboater Ronaldo – I’m at a loss as to why this should be Fergie’s finest hour. If Rooney is now mature, I’d hate to see the media’s idea of an infantile adult. And David Pleat….dear me, he’s always wrong.

If you are a fan of a club (and at 63 I still am, although I fell out of love with the way the sport’s run years ago) life consists of never-ending doubts. Miss three chances in the first ten minutes, and every supporter thinks, ‘I hate it when they do that’. Hit the post a couple of times, and every mind in the Stadium asserts to itself, ‘Oh blimey, it’s going to be one of those days’.

But above all, every supporter can remember those instances when the media build a team up to be something it isn’t. The newspapers perform this ritual on the England team before every World Cup, the strategy being failsafe: if the national side wins, the paper says ‘You read it here first’; and if they lose, more copies will be sold by proclaiming the coach to be a blinkered idiot, and the players a bunch of overpaid Nancies. (The tabloids, at this stage, usually do a truly awful piece of photo-montage showing the manager as some kind of vegetable – a turnip for example, or perhaps a rotten tomato).

When United were just starting to reshape the club after the Munich disaster, in 1962 they played ‘Super’ Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final. ‘UNITED CAN DO IT’ proclaimed the Manchester Evening News. It took Jimmy Greaves just ninety seconds to prove that we couldn’t, and Danny Blanchflower another ten minutes to place a perfect free-kick on Cliff Jones’ head for the second goal. Both these were hallmark Tottenham moves at the time, but if something is done to perfection, it’s very hard to stop it. Watch Messi pick up the ball a few yards outside the penalty area today: he will do a one-two with a colleague, accelerate and then slot the ball in the far corner with surgical accuracy. Defenders can see this coming a mile off, but when executed with skill, there’s not a lot they can do about it.

All this is beginning to sound as if I’ve already written the Reds off, but that is to misunderstand the innate pessimism of the intelligent fan. By 7.45pm tonight, they will once again be my team, capable of beating anyone on their day, and certain to triumph over much-fancied rivals. A few gently glugged Kronenbourgs will have acted as a catalyst in this confidence-building process, but you will go a long way to find any club supporter who gets up that morning and spends the whole day in unshakeable certainty about the coming triumph that evening. You’ll find a lot of ManU fans who will get out of bed and start glugging Kronos to dull the terror of expectation, but that’s the subject of another article entirely.

The bottom line is this: every fan hates the team going into a big game as the favourites. For from this pinnacle of optimism there is only confirmation of the form book on the upside. The downside is a plunge down the mountain of hype and into the slough of despair below. (As United learned only too well during the FA Cup semi-final against local rivals Manchester City earlier this season). And damn me, the media are starting to make United sound like the favourites. Hence the kidology from the Barca mind-gamers: this is exactly what they want.

So bear with me for a few minutes while I change the quantum future in this short paragraph. I think there is every possibility that Wayne Rooney will kick the ref within the first ten minutes, and be sent off. I confidently expect Ryan Giggs to run off the field in tears after half an hour of the Spanish fans taunting him about injunctions. Sir Alex Ferguson will make at least one disastrous team selection in defence, and the unlucky man will put through his own goal shortly after the interval. Vidic will chop down Messi in the penalty area, and the victim will convert the resultant spot-kick with arrogant aplomb. The final score will be 6-0 to Barcelona.

There – that’s much better. I can face the day with confidence at last.


A short footnote:Barcelona won 3-1