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The Joy Of Neutrality

May 15, 2011

Yesterday’s FA Cup Final held a very different experience for me as I watched the game as a complete neutral. When people speak of neutrality, they do in the ways of not explicitly supporting any of the given teams participating in a given game. For me the match between Manchester City and Stoke went further than that and my participation in the spectacle was purely that of a fan of the sport.

Usually when I go into watching a game in a sense of neutrality, as many do, I end up rooting for one over another. It can occasionally be through a vague and mild preference for one of the teams for example the recent play-off clash between Reading and Cardiff where I had a tendency to lean in favour of the Berkshire club instead of the team hailing from the Welsh capital. Another occasion is where I enter a game with zero preference yet find myself influenced as the game develops into favouring one team over another. An example of this occurred in regards to last nights’ Coupe de France Final where PSG’s negative tactics and the forced withdrawal of Claude Makelele caused me to develop a favourable demeanour towards their opponents Lille OSC. This was further reinforced by Lille’s continuation of their desire to play the game in their usual attacking style which thankfully proved ultimately successful albeit in the dying embers of the 90 minutes.

With Manchester City and Stoke City, I found myself attempting to create a mild affiliation with one club over another but it proved to be a fruitless task and with hindsight, I’m quite thankful that was the case. My pros and cons for each club outweighed the other constantly, causing an emotive even split. I admit I did want to see Mario Balotelli do well (as I always do which is something I’ll explain in detail at a later date) but as the game progressed, I could not develop that sense of wanting to extend beyond Super Mario and onto his teammates. Meanwhile, I have sympathy for Stoke City as they are quite often the punchline in many a football stylistic joke as their tactical setup has fallen into the land of stereotypes but the sight of Tony Pulis clad in cap, club polo and tracksuit trousers on the sideline on FA Cup Final day quelled any desire I had for them to succeed. It was essentially an emotional stalemate and I developed an odd sense of nervousness as I couldn’t remember an occasion which had caused such a stressed and emphatic ambivalence.

I had no need to be nervous or frightened about such ambivalence though as I was able to absorb the experience of the FA Cup. I’m not going to resort to all that bollocks of the magic of the FA Cup (which has now of course descended into the world of the marketing ploy) but rather the spectacle of a game played on a big stage albeit one that press have been seeking to demean throughout this season. Of course Final day causes the press to come flocking back but it all seems in a crazed sense of not missing even just a minor note of intrigue that could be sold to the wider audience.

I very much enjoyed the game and come the conclusion, i had no bitterness or happiness but a feeling of contentment. The FA Cup has always had significance for me and will continue to do so despite the best efforts of the organisers to warp the event to try and make as much money as possible. My sense of complete neutrality was soon to cease as what was next on offer for my viewing pleasure was the sharp contrast offered by my hometown of Shrewsbury’s away trip to Torquay United in the League 2 Play-Offs. It’s not a game i really want to dissect in any great detail but the 2-0 defeat inflicted on my hometown club went some way to redress the balance in my emotive standing caused by the sport on the day. Of course nothing quite beats supporting a team and the emotions that go along with such an experience, the giddy delight from victory and the despair from defeat but being a complete neutral is certainly a sobering experience.

It’ll be interesting when or if I’ll have that feeling of complete emotional ambivalence again in a professional football match particularly at the higher level where the multitude in stories covered in the media influences emotional reactions to clubs, players and managers. A possibility in the emotional ambivalence stakes could be the grand daddy of them all in European circles, the UEFA Champions League Final. Barcelona and Manchester United are clubwise emotionally to me on an even level with each other (not in the best way I may add). However, I have a feeling that may fall into the gameplay-influenced camp. A more likely candidate is in the form of its less-appreciated sister, the UEFA Europa League Final between FC Porto and Braga, a game I’ve been looking forward to between two teams I enjoy watching both equally despite their differing natures. In terms of club relation, they’re not so far detached from Manchester City and Stoke too.

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