Why we watch sport (or Winning isn’t everything)

by Steve

Last Sunday Larry at Wezen Ball posted a wonderful report on his last opportunity to watch the Milwaukee Brewers this season. He ended with this:

“There’s still nothing better than seeing Major League Baseball games in person – even if those games are of a sub-.500 team with failed postseason expectations. Baseball really is that good, and we’re lucky to have such a fun, talented and likable squad so close and so affordable. It’s worth remembering every now and then, and this weekend did a great job of reminding me of it.”

Unfortunately, living in England, I can’t actually get to see any Major League Baseball. And being a busy bee, I can’t get to as much live sport as I’d like, or have managed in the past.

Still, there is something very special about going to a game, in any sport, at any level. I enjoy a day out watching non-league football just as much as a day at Wembley, just for different reasons. I went to the cricket this summer for a County Championship game and had a wonderful time, and could probably find just as much to enjoy from a simple village green game as I would a Test Match.

So, sport is fun to watch, even if your team isn’t a massive success. Nobody wants to see their team lose, of course. Even so, the experience, and for some the ritual, of going to the game, is almost enough.

For most of us, the main emotion we experience as a follower of sport is disappointment. Our team can’t win every challenge, every tackle, every point, every game or every championship. But still we return, time and again, year on year.

We accept that we can’t win all the time. And there is a particular dignity in those fans that see less wins than most. It’s not that they don’t care about winning. Far, far from it. It’s just that their support is ultimately unconditional. No glory hunting here. They may scream for change (of tactics, playing staff, coaching staff, owners), but the team will always be their team. And hope springs eternal, just wait until next year…

There is more than the result to keep a supporter hooked. There’s the socialising, the community, the peripheral elements to the main event. I live near Charlton Athletic, and can see the supporters gathering in the cafés before the game, the pubs after. The sense of community, lost in so many other walks of life, is palpable.

Plenty of people seem to go to the cricket for a doze, a read of the paper and a chat. Good on them.

When I caught the baseball, on a trip to New York, the pretzels and beer (and unexpected high-fives from fans nearby) was as much fun as the game itself.

Even armchair supporters enjoy more than just the game itself. It might be that well-earned can of beer or slice of pizza accompanying it. Or the friend who pops round to watch too. The chance for some ‘time out’ from the real world. If the fan is really tech-savvy, they might enjoy the chance to connect with others via twitter, blogging or whatever else.

There’ll be times when they will swear and throw something at the television because the game isn’t going their way. But there will also be the times when they’ll catch a game, just because it’s on, and be more than happy.

While the recent sporting scandals in rugby union, Formula 1 and elsewhere suggest that sportsmen and women are increasingly looking to win at all costs, that isn’t the case for supporters. There is more to the enjoyment of sport than just the contest, or the result of that contest, itself. There’s meaning in sport beyond the score.

Maybe while those directly involved (the players, coaches, owners etc) see sport as a business first and foremost, it’s still a game for the fans.