23 July 2020, The Tablet

Misery me - my football philosophy

Extra Time

Misery me - my football philosophy


I WAS once in a harrowingly flash nightclub with some rugby players. I was talking to the wife of one of them. I don’t recall much about the conversation apart from one bit of sage advice she gave me. “Happiness”, she said, “is a lifestyle choice.” At that moment her husband took a bite out of his champagne flute and started chewing the glass. Not quite sure what that was about, but the evening went downhill from there.

I often think about what she said and whether it’s true. Do you choose your feelings, or do events shape them? Or is the way you feel set in your genetic code and therefore generally unaffected by events, rendering the advice of wives of glass-chewing rugby players irrelevant?

Among the gang I watch football with, and indeed most people I know, I’m regarded as somewhat gloomy. Pessimism and negativity are what I’m known for. Ahead of a match, if I’m asked how my team will do, I always say – and really believe – that we’ll lose. We could be playing Real Madrid, or Reading’s second XI, it matters not. If we score in the first 10 minutes, I will feel that the goal’s come too early, leading to complacency and, inevitably, eventual defeat. Even if we’re playing brilliantly, and leading, I’ll never assume we’ll go on to win. Around 10 years ago, we were playing Reading and leading 2-0 (it could have been 7-0) as we went into the dying moments of the game. Reading’s fans were leaving the ground. As they did so our fans chanted at them: “Is there a fire drill?” Three minutes later Reading were winning 3-2 and it was our fans who were filing out early. “Is there a fire drill?” queried the Reading supporters. I was pessimistic even before this calamity, but I’ve been a whole lot worse ever since.

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