I sat at my desk, huddled over my dad’s laptop so I could watch the grainy stream and still type. I knew we’d hit rock bottom—or it felt like it at least. Liverpool—the most successful English soccer club of all time—had just lost, at home, to Wolverhampton, the last-place team in the English Premier League. And I didn’t care.
Down by a goal, Liverpool put the ball over the line in the 87th minute. I was anxious for a second, but then relieved—not as the team celebrated, but as they looked over and saw the linesman had flagged for offside. I could breathe again. We hadn’t scored.
As a fan, it’s your duty—is it not?—to support your team through tough times and outstanding moments. If you’re only there when things are smooth, let’s face it: you’re not a real fan. You’re using the team only when it’s convenient for you—when they’re winning. It’s a two-way street, authentic fandom. By being there through the shit, you’ve got a right to enjoy the success. And you can fully enjoy that success. It’s made all that much sweeter by the past struggles.
But does that include rooting for your team to lose?
Liverpool is managed—and I use that term in the loosest sense—by Roy Hodgson. This is his first year. Over his career, he’s been a master at helping lower-level teams punch above their weight, but a massive failure at teams with tradition, good players, and great expectations.
At Liverpool, his record and his postgame comments have shown that he’s satisfied with not winning games away from home. He’s turned the team into a clueless group, 11 guys bumbling around like hungover amateurs at the first Sunday-league game of the year. To call them the anti-Barcelona would be an insult to the sport.
Anyone who isn’t a member of the British media knows Hodgson is in over his head and knows he needs to go for the team to move forward. Fans at yesterday’s game broke into a “Hodgson for England” cheer, ironically suggesting that Hodgson is fit to manage the English National Team. So as I watched the clock tick down, I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t frustrated. I was … happy.
Happy that my favorite team lost? As a fan, is that acceptable?
It’s a moral dilemma, really. On the one hand, by rooting for them to lose, I’m rooting for them to succeed. Losing moves Hodgson’s tenure closer to the edge, brightening the club’s future at the same time. But at the core, I’m still rooting for my favorite team to lose a game. That is the opposite of support. And isn’t support what fandom is based on? Behind all the screaming, face paint, and overreactions, you’re a fan because you’re supporting some fashioned athletic entity.
This isn’t a unique situation to European sport. It happens in the NBA when teams are eliminated from the playoffs. Fans root for their teams to lose in order to up their chances of landing the number-one pick. And when the Lions set the futility record in the NFL, losing every game to go 0-16, fans rooted for Detroit to lose in that last game. It meant their team was something special. They’re remembered for being brilliantly awful. With a win, they’d just be another 1-16 team, a futile footnote in the league’s history.
So, as a fan, do you have a duty to support your team no matter what? Am I a cheating, adulterous skank of a fan for turning my back on Liverpool? My intentions are the best, I think, but should I trust that the club will turn it around and support them until they do? After all, they’re the ones getting paid, right?
Someone help me out. My head hurts.
—Photo Tim Hales/AP