David Preece: Emotion in football is pivotal - and Sunderland, Liverpool and Manchester City have perfectly captured that
Football without emotion is like drinking non-alcoholic beer. It looks exactly the same but something is missing. And that what is missing is the best part, so where’s the fun in that? Exactly, there is none. What was made to be enjoyed has literally turned wine into water and if God had wanted us to do that he would have made us read the Bible back to front.
No, football needs emotion to be enjoyed to its full and in that respect, this has been some week for it. From the contrasting emotions of Liverpool and Man City fans following Vincent “Don’t shoot from there” Kompany’s blockbuster at the Etihad on Monday night, Liverpool’s incredulous comeback against Barcelona and even our own feeling of being winded by Sunderland’s lowest ever league finish, it’s a surprise we haven’t OD’d on adrenaline and hormones. (I have just Googled “What causes emotions?” and this is the best answer I could come up with)
Imagine a world without those feelings of ecstasy and deep, deep dejection though. Okay, so I’m sure there’s many of you out there at this very moment screaming “WE’VE HAD DAVID MOYES AS OUR MANAGER: WE KNOW WHAT JOYLESS FOOTBALL IS LIKE.” but that’s not exactly what I mean.
At least there was frustration, anger and even disillusionment during that, the most testing of times. All present to fill the void we fill with football. Because that’s what football is for most of us. It’s emotion; the drug that we’re all hooked on.
No matter how you are feeling, whether trough or peak, as long as you feel something then that’s exactly how it should be. I always said the best thing about Sunderland was there was only ever rare moments of mediocrity. We were always at both ends of the spectrum; fighting for promotion or fighting for our lives. But trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
And why do I say this? Because I’ve been there, three years in a self-impose emotional vacuum and I never want to go back there.
Over the course of my playing career, I played on emotion. And at the age of 28, I decided I’d had enough of the fluctuating mood swings as well as the fluctuating performances.
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Again, as was his great influence on me at the time, it was my Danish teammate at Aberdeen, Peter Kjaer, that lead me on the path towards temporary tranquility. Ever keen to glean whatever wisdom I could from him, I was always taken by his calm manner. Well, mostly calm manner. Like all good goalkeepers, he had the capacity to rage but he was mostly placid.
His theory about football was to always stay level no matter what. Never getting too emotional either way, whether winning or losing, playing good or playing bad. Upon these pearls, I began to dig deeper and read up on focusing on the process and not letting myself be influenced by outcomes and incidents. In effect, I became a robot. Still an at best average robot, but a robot nonetheless.
A conscious effort was made to stay as neutral with my emotions as I could be. Goals conceded and defeats were met with a shrug of the shoulders and a refocusing on the what was in front of me and not behind. And when we scored I’d simply turn back to line, turn around and walk back into position for the restart.
Gone were the tantrums when things weren’t going my way. So were the primeval screams of jubilation that were often so strained I’d end up light headed and seeing stars for the next few minutes. This was how I should have been for all those years. This was how I should have matured from that angry kid who didn’t talk for days after he didn’t play well or got beat. This, however, was also incredibly boring.
I stopped enjoying what I was doing. I was wasn’t playing football, just following the process. So now I was in a predicament. I had to ask myself whether I should continue neutralising my enjoyment or go back to riding the waves of emotion? It was no contest, really.
I might as well be sat here in full attire; Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts and flip flops. Surf board under one arm.