Monday, November 30, 2009

How to Get Into Following Sports: Find a Narrative

From an interview with Author Nick Hornby in Prospect Magazine - this excerpt discussing British soccer (football) fan-dom and the narrative that keeps the fan (of any sport) engaged in it:    
People want to lose themselves in fiction.

And in football. Sport and art have that in common. “The anxiety and the anger, you know, all the conversational stuff that goes on. I think there’s a lack of self-consciousness in that—because people behave as if it really matters, and they don’t feel self-conscious about it.” Storytellers may have seven basic plots to work with but football fans have a more restricted set. At football matches, “Every conversation is a version of: ‘We need a goal; we need not to let in a goal,’ and that’s pretty much all it is but there are endless elaborations.”
He recalls a conversation with a friend at Arsenal’s title-clinching match with Everton at Highbury in 1998. “‘Everton need the points’ my friend says, ‘they could go down.’ So, we get an early goal and he relaxes for five minutes. ‘I’d really like to see another one go in before half-time,’ he says. We get another. He’s worried. ‘If it goes to 2-1,’ he says, ‘we’ll get panicky.’ So we score a third and he says, ‘be nice to get a fourth to wrap it up.’ And the moment the fourth one goes in he says, ‘If we don’t get two new centre halves next season we’re in trouble.’”
The perfect, egoless, moment of transcendence is when the ball hits the back of the net, as long as your team has put it there of course, but the moment soon expires and it’s back to the universal story. And there, crystallised, are the two dimensions of selfhood, the self of the present moment—GOAALL!—and the extended self, the narrative thread of subjective experience that gives us our sense of unity and continuity—our identity: We need a goal; we need not to let in a goal.
What better sport narratives in the Boston area to sink into than the Red Sox "Curse" and Sox/Yankees rivalry?
P.S. Post not guaranteed to get you into following sports.


  1. I think about this All The Time, since living in Boston... How much of the pull can be attributed to the qualities of the narrative itself, do you think, and how much is just its largeness, its appeal to our desire to be participate in a narrative with a powerful community?

  2. Everyone loves a story (even people who hate clowns).

  3. Good question, Jessy. Your latter point is, I think, certainly a part of it - the desire to join up with (or continue ones participation in) the community keeps some in it, in the same way that what keeps some *not* involved is the deliberate choice to stay outside the (given sport's) community. Around Boston (as you intimate) the significance and largeness of the specific sport narratives certainly acts as a strong pull, limiting ones ability to escape it if desired (you can't help but tend to hear how the game went or what Ortiz did this time).

    The narrative view itself(your 'former point,' now that i've locked myself into that format), I think, is a more universal explanation for the deep passion that sports/games can bring out in people. Both, however, seem to be part of feedback loop: the passionate followers increase the significance of the narrative locally, which in turn raises the stakes of the narrative (particular as it lengthens as the years pass), which in turn makes the followers more passionate.

  4. What about BROS? Amiriteoramirite? All the passion you need to get STOKED!