The cliché is true. Whether it’s cricket, rugby, football or tiddlywinks, it’s just a game. It’s not a matter of life or death. So why does it feel like I’ve been slapped in the face with a wet haddock every time my teams lose?
I’m currently in a slump. Sport and I are not getting on well. The teams I support are all absolutely dreadful (and probably doing me serious psychological harm) except the England cricket team, who occasionally delight as well as frustrate.
Here’s the tale of my sporting season. Please bear in mind that I care far too much about the following clubs. They are in my soul. I take each and every one of their miserable failures personally. I challenge anyone, anyone, to present a portfolio of sporting filth worse than mine.
Exhibit No1: Aston Villa.
Need I say more? Poor Villa have won just once in twenty league games this year. We’re seven points adrift at the bottom of the premiership and a whopping eleven points from safety. Relegation, for the first time since 1987, looks certain. We couldn’t even beat lowly Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup at the weekend. We’re doomed I tells ya.
It could, or should, be so different though. Aston Villa used to be the world’s greatest football club (albeit sixty or seventy years ago). I was enormously proud to be a Villa fan. And I sooo used to love club football. Getting the train up to Villa Park was like a pilgrimage in my youth. Standing on the loud and proud Holte End terrace gave me goosebumps every time.
Now the club’s plight – a result of poor management and an unsuccessful gamble to get into the champions league a few years ago under Martin O’Neill – makes me sick to the stomach. I can hardly watch football anymore. It’s all money, money, money. And in Villa’s case defeat after defeat after defeat. It’s so sad.
Exhibit No.2: Worcester Warriors.
I was born and bred in Worcester so I care about this club deeply. But boy do they test my patience. We were full of hope when the team finally won promotion to the top tier of English rugby back in 2004. With a good supporter base and a wealthy benefactor (a local guy, not a South African) we thought we’d become a fixture at the top table and eventually challenge the cream of Europe.
There was something glorious about supporting Warriors. Some of the traditional powerhouses of English rugby did everything they could to stop us going up (the tossers) and our support was electric. Every win was like sticking two fingers up at the establishment. Unfortunately however, the sporting gods have been shoving two fingers up at us ever since.
Since Warriors’ initial promotion to the top flight we’ve been relegated twice and finished no higher than eighth out of twelve teams. In our last seven seasons we’ve finished 11th, 10th. 11th, 12th, 10th, 11th and 12th again. Meanwhile Exeter, the club we should have been, have made premiership survival looks ridiculously easy.
Although Worcester finally seem to be making progress under Dean Ryan, we’re currently 10th in the table after a number of all too familiar nail-biting loses in which the team were highly competitive, deserved to win, but somehow threw it away at the death. Our points difference isn’t too shabby at all, but we’ve won just twice all season. Another relegation battle looks inevitable.
Take yesterday’s defeat at Wasps. Worcester dominated most of the game and led 22-20 with two minutes to go. Warriors were deep in Wasps’ half and had possession. All looked rosy. But suddenly the ball slid out of the base of a ruck. It was snapped up by Wasps, who ran the length of the field (exploiting an injury to our winger) to score the winning try with seconds left. Sounds about right. It happen the other day against Leicester too.
Warriors could’ve accepted the losing bonus point but pressed for a win from the ensuing kick-off. Guess what? They lost the ball again and Wasps scored once more in injury time. No bonus point for us. The supporters’ forums were full of gracious Wasps fans offering their condolences. They felt embarrassed they’d won.
Even though I expected defeat throughout the game, I was utterly crushed afterwards. How on earth do you dominate a game but concede 12 points in the last two minutes and come away with nothing? I’ll tell you how. It’s that perfect fusion of ineptitude and bad fortune.
Once again the sporting gods took a hefty swing at my crotch and caught me square in the knackers. Worcester have won just 2 of 49 away games in their premiership history. That’s staggeringly awful.
Exhibit No2: Worcestershire County Cricket Club.
Before I was exiled down south, I was a junior member at Worcs in the glorious 1980s. I spent many a day sitting underneath the chesnut trees at New Road alongside the Ladies Pavilion. Like many kids we used to play on the outfield at tea. I once got in trouble for accidentally (well, repeatedly if I’m being honest) running onto the square. I was marched to the president’s office for a dressing down. Needless to say I enjoyed every minute of my behind-the-scenes look at the club’s offices!
Worcestershire used to have the best team in the land. We once fielded the following XI in the Sunday League: Tim Curtis, Tom Moody, Graeme Hick, Ian Botham, Damien D’Oliveira, Phil Neale, Steve Rhodes, Richard Illingworth, Phil Newport, Graham Dilley and Neil Radford. That team would’ve beaten England.
These days, however, have long gone. Like many sports cricket is now increasingly about money and the smaller clubs can’t compete. Whereas Worcs once attracted the likes of Glenn McGrath, they now lose all their best talent. The following players have left over the last few years: Kabir Ali, Gareth Batty, Vikram Solanki, Steve Davies (all England players of course) and Stephen Moore. No wonder we’re now the archetypal yoyo club.
Last year a young Worcs team finished bottom of division one and were promptly relegated. Tellingly many supporters thought it was quite a promising season because we actually won three games. That’s three more than most pundits predicted. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Like Aston Villa, Worcestershire fans must realise that they’ll never become champions of England ever again. The financial realities prohibit it, no matter how well the club is or isn’t run. How utterly depressing.
Exhibit No.4 San Francisco 49ers.
I’ve previously talked about the hubris that blights the 49ers front office so I’ll keep this brief. I’ll simply reiterate the naked statistics that demonstrate just how awful the 49ers were this season – just two years removed from reaching three consecutive NFC championship games (which are essentially Super Bowl semi-finals).
The best way to measure NFL teams is via Football Outsiders ‘DVOA’ (defence-adjusted value over average) which considers the quality of opposition and then compares players’ performance against the league average. In 2015 the 49ers finished 27th in defence (they were 5th the year before), and fell from 16th to 28th in offense. Their offensive line, once the strength of the team, finished dead last in 32nd place.
Not long ago the 49ers were very, very good. But in a short space of time they’ve become worse than terrible. It takes a special brand of incompetence to fall so far in such a short space of time. I’m lost for words.
This season the 49ers finished with just 5 wins (two of which came after the opposition missed a simple field goal to win at the death) and 11 losses. They sacked their coach, but not before a fluke win in his final game screwed up the team’s draft position. There are no silver linings in San Francisco. Ever. They do it just to spite me.
When you add up the collective records of the teams I support, this season has been an unmitigated disaster. It’s been cruel, unfair (in a pouting teenager way) and desperate.
Villa, Warriors, Worcestershire and the 49ers have mustered just 11 wins between them, drawn eight and lost a humongous 42. It’s a litany of abject failure – a rollercoaster of pure unadulterated crap, interspersed with serious lashing of denser, smellier crap.
As I approach my 40th birthday next weekend (and the odds of me having a happy birthday are pretty slim judging by the respective fixtures lists) my nerves and patience are completely shot. I’ve aged exponentially as the weeks have passed as one lamentable catastrophe follows another.
I’ve gone through the whole spectrum of emotions during this time – from frustration and anger to numbness and depression – and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said to my long-suffering Mrs “I’m done with sport now … it’s just not worth it”.
Unfortunately though sport is a drug, and just like drinking on a Saturday night you never think about last week’s hangover when you order your first pint of the evening. It doesn’t matter how many times I shout, scream and kick the cat, I’ll be watching with baited breath the next time my teams take the field.
It’s the hope that kills you, but the hope that keeps you coming back for more. It’s insane.