Football is agony. It’s a specific type of pain that the populous are addicted to and we neither want to nor can we give it up. It’s a silly little sport that turns us all into masochists, yet there are two clear types of football: league and international. League football the delayed gratification of sweet misery, the type of honest to goodness pain we can tantrically sustain ourselves on for ten months of the year. And then there’s international football, specially, tournament football.
Most will support their own nations at major tournaments, national pride intermixing with the familiar ache of goals conceded and matches lost. But unlike its league counterpart, it doesn’t draw and drag on for months, during the league season one loss will put us in a bad mood but its rarely terminal. Yet during those blockbuster tournaments, a single loss can bring about the storm clouds and instant dread.
Some teams will be pronounced dead at the scene before they’ve even played their second match, others will fall during the group stage but others bring about the unbridled joy of progression before the endless depths of knock-out anguish.
Football is a torturous mistress who will sucker you in, whispering sweet nothings into your ear, teasing silverware and the rare type of footballing ecstasy that the majority will never get to taste. She’ll tell you that anything can happen over 90 minutes, that any team, even your shitty one, can score a goal or keep a clean sheet.
It’s a sickness that afflicts people en masse, a delirium usually sampled over sweltering summer nights, the tease of tournament success like an oasis in the desert; an opiate for those who worship at the temple of football. The deeper our teams go, the closer they get to the fabled promised land of a final, the more delicious the misery at the end of the road, the tournament oblivion most will suffer.
Finally the hurdles will be too many for your team to keep vaulting and the end will be sudden, marked with a shrill whistle to wake you from your tantalising dream. Players will fall to grass, broken and tired having been similarly seduced by the promise of international glory, only to be left as humbled and stung as their fans. Players and supporters united in misery, tricked and teased by the game they can’t quit.
Like nails drawn down a bare back, raking the naked flesh, the loss will leave a sharp sting, slowly healing itself just in time for the start of the league season and a renewed promise of torturous bliss.