This break I spent a lot of time watching soccer, specifically Everton, the team I support. Everton is in the British Premier League, and they have recently been giving a master class in how to be truly awful at soccer, which has resulted in me being somewhat grumpy. This made me wonder, why do I follow Everton and their struggles? What makes me follow them even when I hate them? To answer that, let me tell you what Everton is playing for.
Everton is playing for survival in the world’s hardest professional league, the Premier League. A Premier League season is a long one, consisting of 38 matches starting in August and ending in May of the next year. There are also other cup competitions that the teams compete in. Teams that finish in the top four of the league make it into the Champions League, where they compete against other elite teams in Europe to be crowned the European Champion.
For middling teams like Everton, we don’t worry about the Champions League. We go for the losers bracket, the Europa League. To make it you have to get fifth, sixth or if you have a really good run in a domestic cup, seventh. It’s hard for teams like Everton to make it into the top six, so they shoot for seventh.
Following your team as they strive to make it to the Europa League spots or try to compete for the domestic cup competitions can at times be exhilarating and exciting. But more often than not, you are left incredibly disappointed and angry at how your team plays and inevitably loses. Everton is a perfect example of this balance of expecting excellence and getting mediocrity. Year after year they will buy loads of new, expensive players from across the globe and each summer I will build myself up to a point where I think we can win the whole enchilada. But, in classic Everton fashion, my hope and blind optimism is met with losing to the worst side in the Premier League and once again just writing the season off as a “building year” and beginning the planning for next season.
So why do I come back? If deep down I know that my team is either bang average or pretty awful and me supporting them only brings me anger and disappointment, why do I wake up at 7:30 on a Saturday to sit in my friend’s room and watch them? In a report from The Washington Post, they cited a study that says following sports makes people miserable. After tracking data for three seasons with millions of submissions with a happiness monitoring app, researchers found that people were not as happy when they won and irrationally more angry when they lost. The feeling of losing was always greater than even the happiest of wins.
So if my following of Everton is actually just a source of anger, what drives me to do it? The simple answer is that I love soccer. I love to watch it and play it and learn as much as I can about the game and its many wonders. I would also say that for me there is no better feeling than watching Everton beat one of my friends’ teams or making a prediction about a game and getting it right. While that might be more tied to my competitive nature, it has now become entwined with soccer and with Everton. Their winning and losing either feeds it or enrages my love for the team.
Whether that is a good thing or not is an entirely different discussion altogether, but following a team can at times seem to be a fool’s errand. It feels like a nexus of mediocrity, one that no matter how much you love and support them, it won’t get better. But for every time that Everton loses, for every bad season we have, there is always the hope that the next one is the one. Everton has never won the Premier League and hasn’t won a trophy in nearly 20 years, but when they do, the euphoria that will engulf me still won’t make up for how many times we have lost (which is now the most in premier league history). But that’s what loving a team is, a fool’s errand with no pay off, and I’m okay with that.