My husband reads The New Yorker for the articles. I read it for the cartoons. More accurately, my husband shows me the cartoons he knows I’ll find amusing.
I have trouble remembering the 10 Commandments, lyrics of songs, people’s names, Shakespeare plays. But I have a permanent memory of a New Yorker Leo Cullum cartoon that I probably first saw more than 20 years ago. It features two well-dressed dogs at a bar. One of them is pontificating to the other, “It is not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.”
No doubt this cartoon sticks in my mind so well because it so perfectly represents the way groups can polarize and wish evil on each other. And it certainly describes how many football supporters–including myself, obviously–come to view the competition.
A key structural reason that it may be prevalent in football is that there are no divisions in the Premier League like there are in most sports popular in America, including Major League Soccer. Denver Broncos fans have a giant rivalry with other teams in their division (Oakland Raiders, most notably) because they meet regularly and they are in head-to-head competition to reach the playoffs. In the Barclays Premier League, each team plays all 19 other teams exactly twice, once home and once away. The one with the most points at the end of the season wins the league. To win the league, your team quite obviously must take points and others must fail to. Your team has only two chances to directly take points from each other team in the league. The only other way that the strongest competitors will drop points is if they do so at the hands of other teams.
A logistical reason is that England is a relatively small country and teams can be from the same city or region. London currently has five teams in the Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham, and Crystal Palace. There are two teams in Manchester. Two Merseyside county teams: Liverpool and Everton. It’s not like Buffalo where almost everyone with whom you interact who follows American football suppports the Bills. You can imagine that if you are a fan of a team in London or Manchester, in your school or workplace there are supporters of other teams with whom you engage in good-natured and not-so-good-natured ribbing that motivates you to be more inclined to wish the worst for those teams.
Only four teams have won the league in the past 15 seasons. From approximately most recent to least recent, Chelsea have won four times, Manchester City have won twice, Manchester United have won 7 times, and Arsenal have won twice. This also motivates some hatred. Supporters tire of seeing the same club(s) succeed and want to see them come off of their thrones.Think of the New York Yankees. Part of the reason people hate them is success.
Part of the reason success breeds contempt is that it breeds attention, lots of it. The more successful your team, the more attention on each player. People want to know about them and the media strive to deliver the most clickable stories. These players are young guys, athletes. Maybe not so savvy off the field. Maybe downright naïve. Maybe stupid. They make ill-advised statements, drive drunk, set off fireworks in their bathrooms, sleep with a teammate’s wife.
On-field familiarity also breeds contempt for players. A weird goal celebration. Repeated recklessness. Biting, spitting. Racial abuse. Diving. Whining. Managers tend to reappear at other clubs, carrying baggage. Failure. Unforgettable statements. Bad behavior. If you hate Harry at Tottenham, he isn’t improved, in your mind, at Queens Park Rangers. Players carry the same stigma as they are transferred from club to club. If they failed before, they are scorned for their failure. If they succeeded before, they are despised by their old club’s supporters for leaving.
Add up these reasons, stories, actions across a team and some serious loathing among nonsupporters festers. As a result, we not only wish evil on other teams, we actively watch, rooting for failure.
There is one other reason that football supporters will spend perfectly good time watching a game that doesn’t include their team, hoping for dropped points and angst.
We’re just bad people.