x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Forget the wife and kids - a sports fan knows the real truth

When it comes to the really big thrills in life, never mind the family; it's all about the sudden joy of victory.

He might have just captained Manchester City to one of the most dramatic Premier League triumphs ever, but Vincent Kompany clearly knows on which side his bread is buttered.

"It was one of the best moments of my life," Kompany said of his team's logic-defying, last-gasp win on Sunday, before adding, with a barely concealed chuckle, an obligatory "together with the birth of my child and together with my wedding day".

The men and women of the press corps laughed knowingly. I suspect that they thought, just as I did, that Kompany was lying. Far be it from me to doubt his love for his family, but Kompany's words seemed born out of duty more than real feeling.

It is hard to see how anyone in attendance at Etihad Stadium who witnessed the "miracle at Manchester" on Sunday, as Kompany himself called it, would not consider it to be the greatest day of their lives.

Logically, of course, there is no acceptable explanation for that. It's just 22 players kicking a round ball, the cynics would say. A modern day opiate for the masses. Bread and circuses. Is this real happiness, or merely an illusion of it?

This is best answered with another question: does it matter?

"The goal towards which the pleasure principle impels us - of becoming happy - is not attainable," Sigmund Freud said of the pursuit of happiness. "Yet we may not - nay, cannot - give up the efforts to come nearer to realisation of it by some means or other." So, that's escapism, Sigmund.

Except it's so much more than that. The joy, and let's not forget, misery, that football brings to millions is far closer to spiritualism than escapist entertainment. Enjoying The Avengersis one thing; what City fans, and Kompany, experienced is quite another. Happiness, that day, was very much "attainable".

In his era-defining book about football obsession, Fever Pitch, the usually erudite Nick Hornby struggled in vain to articulate what Arsenal's dramatic league championship win at Anfield in 1989 - the game most closely resembling City's on Sunday - felt like.

He gave up, saying there was no analogy good enough for the euphoria felt after that last-minute winner. No memorable concerts, no personal awards or promotions, not even winning the pools. And of course, not even that old standard: the new baby.

"Childbirth must be extraordinarily moving, but it doesn't have that crucial surprise element," Hornby said, adding: "What else is there that can possibly provide the suddenness?" And there, in a nutshell, lies the glory of sports. Suddenness.

"The Rumble in the Jungle" as Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in Zaire, 1974. "The Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics, when the amateurs of the US beat the mighty Soviets in Lake Placid. And the Red Sox beating the New York Yankees in seven games to banish the "Curse of the Bambino" on their way to winning their first World Series for 86 years in 2004. All against the odds. All so very sudden.

These City fans had waited 44 years, their comically underachieving club forever in the shadow of absurdly successful and, one would assume, insufferable rivals. If there was a competition for messing up, City would have messed up their application form. There was even a name for it: "Cityitis". In retrospect, it could only be cured the way it was on Sunday; despair before ultimate, sudden redemption.

For United fans, now, the trauma. The sort of trauma their team has inflicted on supporters of other clubs for the last two decades. They'll handle it of course, for they have their own stories, their own miracles. One friend who was lucky enough to be at the fabled 1999 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich once told me that it was the best night of his life.

"This stays between us, but it was better than the birth of my child." Ah, a bit of self-awareness at last. And from a Manchester United fan no less.

It's not right. It just is.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

On Twitter: AliKhaled_