COS contributor Jamie Clarke ponders just how important the ‘Beautiful Game’ can be to us supporters.
On the eve of the champions league final much speculation revolved around the media magnet Jose Mourinho as his impressively sturdy Inter milan completed the treble before the special one swanned off towards a host of galacticos and one of the most expectant clubs in the world. Mourinho dominates the gossip mill concerning the managerial merry-go-round hypothesised between some of europe’s top clubs, whilst Bayern were left to quietly organise their plans with relatively little publicity, most notably amongst the scraps Arjen Robben criticised Mourinho’s obssessive management ethos. The game represented an outstanding spectacle with each player, and manager, lucidly aware that ninety minutes of football can create for the winning team a near mythical presence in any club’s history, who will ever forget the thrilling night in which Jerzey Dudek’s jelly legs rather oddly contributed towards Liverpool’s greatest european comeback, subsequently etching the team of 05 permanently into the liverpudlian consciousness. Now Milito, Pandev and company will never be forgotten, they have written themselves into the history books. Inter’s long wait over and an unprecedented Italian treble ensures their places. Beyond the twenty-two men, however, the game can mean so much more.
Mark Houghton never saw the dream of a fifth european cup become a reality for his beloved Liverpool. Whilst the red army of fans in Istanbul sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and roused a dejected dressing room of overwhelmed footballers, Mr. Houghton had decided to take his own life. At 3-0 down to European stalwarts AC Milan it would have taken a monumental performance for Liverpool to win and for Mr. Houghton this was the scoreline he took to the grave. Of course we are all aware that Gerrard pulled a mercurious performance out of the bag and catapulted Liverpool to an unprecedented penalty shoot-out victory, however besides the tragic irony this eventual scoreline is insignificant. What is significant is that for Mr. Houghton football was a form of life support. Mr. Houghton had lost his job following an industrial accident and subsequently suffered depression and constant pain to his back and shoulders. Liverpool FC had always been an important part of Mr. Houghton’s life, as every football fan can appreciate, and it appears the utter dejection of a 3-0 deficit in the Champions League combined with his own personal problems and presented only one, desperately tragic escape. For so many football acts as a form of escapism, and, sometimes, even the most decorated supporter of any team will give up on the possibility of a miracle happening.
Of course, miracles happen in football every season and is a testament to the almost infinite permutations made possible by twenty-two men kicking a ball around a field of grass. As I write this article Blackpool are sleeping giants no more under the mightily eccentric Ian Holloway and thanks to their odds defying season Blackpool concil is anticipating a surge in tourism. A whole town benefiting from Ian Holloway’s gung ho assault of the championship, which I don’t think even he could have anticipated.
But when the miracles aren’t performed, when the story doesn’t go your way on that all important night and had Mourinho not bridged the 45 year old European gap in Inter’s history then the tears inevitably roll. Ironically, Mourinho most probably came closer to tears through victory due to his inevitable departure from the San Siro. With the season closing the tears of relegation, final defeat, joy and pain are drying up, but when you next see close up images of distraught footballers (John Terry, blazing the fourth penalty over in the semis against Brazil, I’d imagine) I’d urge you all to spare a thought for Mr. Houghton and the many possible series of unfortunate events that can transform football from an incredibly important game into a life support machine.