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A Different Take On Soccer, And Being A Sports Fan

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
Jack Dunn of Tranmere holds off pressure from Daniel Wishart of Forest Green during the Vanarama National League Play Off Final.

If you’re already sure your favorite team is going to lose, why do you bother watching the game?

Philosopher Simon Critchley is a lifelong fan of what the rest of the world calls football, and Americans call soccer. In fact, that’s one of the phenomena he writes about in his new book that analyzes sports - and soccer in particular - through the lens of philosophy. The book is called What We Think About When We Think About Soccer.

Critchley is all-too-familiar with the fine line between dread and hope that all sports fans experience while watching their favorite teams. “We know this is going to end disastrously. We know we’re not going to win. And, it’s as if, the players and the fans are caught up in a kind of web of fate and it makes you think that this isn’t really sport at all. It’s governed by chance.” 

However, he notes that losing is not the worst part. “It’s not the losing that is the worst thing. It’s the hope that keeps resurfacing, which is the worst thing. So, even when you know that, you know, you’re going to be disappointed that your team is not going to win, you still hope that they will.”

Although failure can be a tough lesson to endure, it is an important lesson to learn. Critchley says, “To communicate that to a subsequent generation to get them used to not just failure but the hope that tickles inside failure, and you know, that’s what it means to be a fan.”

Critchley, who is a professor at the New School for Social Research, says the book is not meant to explain the philosophy of soccer; rather, it seeks to view our enjoyment of the game, and other sports, in a way that we don’t always choose. 

“It’s a humble attempt to render this experience of [soccer] through the lens of a philosopher’s eye,” he says, “to evoke the experience and make it come alive and to give us a new vocabulary for thinking about it.”