Panama fans show world why we need sport
Have you ever been caught couch coaching?
If you have, you know the feeling. Perched on the edge of the lounge, hand in the peanut bowl, rocking backwards and forwards whilst vehemently willing Mitchell Starc to snare that final wicket. He needs that wicket, you tell your screen. It’ll complete another test match fiver for him and it’ll propel Australia to the top of the world rankings. And then…
You’ll turn off the TV and, naturally, find something more productive to occupy your mind and energy for the rest of the day. You’ll still have to eat a certain amount of calories to survive; you’ll still have to get up the next morning and go to work; the postie will still deliver the bills and you’ll still hate him for it. Whether he takes that wicket or not, your life is unlikely to change.
So, why do we do it? Why do we invest so much of ourselves in these grownup games? Why did Blues fans across the state unite in uproar last night when Boyd Cordner was taken out off the ball? Why do we care who wins the MVP or the Dally M or the Brownlow?
These are the questions lurking at the back of my mind whenever I find myself getting a little hot under the collar because “that was clearly a forward pass”. It’s the subconscious cynic in me and he mars my spectating confidence.
Late last night I watched the Group G World Cup fixture between England and Panama and, lo and behold, my inner cynic was nowhere to be found. The Three Lions were smoking the Central American minnow 6-0 courtesy of a Harry Kane hat-trick when, in the 78th minute, all hell broke loose.
Panama’s Avila hits a swinging free-kick. 37-year-old substitute Baloy finds himself on the other side of a white wall with ball at feet and slots his country’s first ever FIFA World Cup goal. The crowd goes ballistic and the stadium becomes engulfed in a sea of ecstatic red bodies.
The score: 6-1. The game: well and truly England’s. And the dullest bloke in the world couldn’t wipe the smile off those Panamanian faces.
And that, I’ve decided, is why we need sport. It fills us with joy. It brings the masses together in a way that not even politics or religion manage to. For many, I dare say it offers an escape from life’s gloomy corners, if only for an hour or so.
It’s well documented that the English media and fans are some of the most jaded, critical ‘supporters’ in sport. I’ve heard many an Englishman say they’ll only watch their country play if there’s “literally nothing else on”. After two good performances and a certain place in the final 16, the vibe seems to have turned somewhat. English heads are being held a little higher and the disengagement seems to be morphing into something akin to pride.
England were very good last night. Excellent, in fact. But sport is a volatile thing and the chances that they’ll be good next week or in a year’s time are uncertain. Panama are pretty ordinary, and they’ll probably still be pretty ordinary in four years time, IF they qualify again.
The difference? When England’s next inevitable form slump hits fans will go back to slandering their countrymen, their collective bottoms slipping shamefully between the cracks in the cushions. The Panamanians? They’ll still be at the edge of their seats or, better still, at the ground, soaked in red; immovable smiles plastered across happy faces. They know what sport is all about.