England will play in their first World Cup cricket final today for 27 years and, as something of an obsessive for the game, I’ll be largely avoiding it.
It’s always been the same. Whenever a team I have supported is involved in an important game I’ve found it almost impossible to watch “real-time” in some misguided attempt to shield myself from the inevitable disappointment should things go wrong.
Researching the phenomenon I find some information on what psychologists call “BIRGing” or “basking in reflected glory”. The feeling of euphoria after your team has done well. The collective nationalistic glow when England reach the point in a tournament just before they are defeated by Germany on penalties for example.
The antithesis to BIRGing is, CORFing or, cutting off reflected failure. The process of trying to distance yourself from a disappointing performance in order to cushion the blow. This is definitely me.
I would say to my friend Martin, who supports the same team as I do, “I don’t even like football anymore”. He’d play along but be fully aware that my temporary fit of pique wouldn’t last long.
Once, at a family party in Greenwich when my son was only 18 months old and my wife was heavily pregnant with my daughter, my team were playing a televised game which a number of the men were sneaking off to watch in another room. Expected to be beaten heavily we took the lead and I had to go and walk alone around Greenwich Park until the final whistle so that I didn’t have to endure the nail-biting forty minutes to the end of the game.
This is “superstitious conditioning”, another aspect of the psychology of being a sports fan. It is the unnecessary ritual we add to our routine convincing ourselves that we are impacting the eventual result.
I always had to drink from the same mug on match days, a superstition my mother described as, “Naughty” presumably because it was ungodly and she didn’t approve anything God wasn’t keen on.
I also only ate my half time Mars bar if my team was winning at the break. Consequently, I almost always returned home with an uneaten Mars bar without having had much enthusiasm for consuming it on the miserable drive home.
Once, unable to take the disappointment of a goal against us which appeared an inevitable winner scored late into injury time in a League Cup quarter-final I left the ground in disgust only to hear the roar of the crowd signaling that we’d scored a late equaliser. Already halfway down the road to my car I turned and ran back into the ground to catch the ensuing penalty shoot out, which we lost.
At dinner last night I remind everyone that it’s the cricket World Cup final today.
“You’ll be too anxious to watch” my daughter points out, rather too glibly.
It’s disappointing because I thought I’d hidden it quite well over the years.
I remind her of the time I watched an entire match having promised that, should we prevail, I would run around the garden in nothing but my underpants.
“No, you kept leaving the room and peeping around the door to see what the score was”
Memory is a fickle beast.
“I did run around the garden in my pants though, and it was January, and it was snowy” I offer.
She smiles thinly and nods, eyebrows raised.
Of course none of these strategies works. If England loses today it won’t matter that I will have watched most of the game from behind the sofa. It will be disappointing nonetheless. If they win, I’ll be avidly watching the highlights hoping to catch all the bits I missed when the anxiety got too much.
Maybe I’ll just watch it and be damned, but I’m not eating that Mars bar unless we score over 300 runs.