Why do football fans submit themselves to this stress every year?
- Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK
The last time Torquay United lost at Wembley, the seven-year-old son of a friend of mine was devastated.
His dad put his arm around him and explained: “If you’re going to support Torquay you have to get used to disappointment.”
This season, which promised so much, again ended in disappointment.
It is difficult for anyone who does not follow football to understand why we submit themselves to this stress every year.
A staunch Torquay United fan I know was in New York when there was a vital match against Barnet.
His American girl friend asked why he was stressed. “If they lose,” he explained “they will drop out of the league.”
She tried to reassure him. “Can’t you just support another team?”
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The relationship did not last.
I have tried to overcome my addiction but if I’m away when Torquay are playing, I cannot help occasionally looking at my phone.
By occasionally, I mean about every 30 seconds.
Supporting Torquay has also proved a great way for our sons to keep in touch.
Two of them joined school friends to watch the play-off final in Bristol while the wives and children met up.
One of the great things about supporting a lower-level club is that the supporters know we are not Barcelona or Chelsea.
In one game we finally took a weak shot after about 70 minutes.
The pop side started singing Vera Lynn: 'We’ll shoot again, don’t know where, don’t know when but I’m sure we’ll shoot again some sunny day.”
Every professional football club must have a doctor present during the game.
Today, sports medicine is highly specialised but, in the past, any doctor would do.
Back in the 1980s, when Cyril Knowles was manager, the club doctor asked me whether I could cover when he was away.
The team talk was 'I f** want this one, lads' which was hardly Roy of the Rovers, but Cyril was a successful manager and a tough Yorkshireman.
Coming out from the tunnel with the team we were met with a massive cheer from 2,000 fans.
They were not cheering at me but what must it be like coming out to 100,000 fans at Wembley?
I sat the bench and heard Cyril’s encouraging words, although I used the word 'encouraging' flexibly.
His advice to the players was to almost reach the goal line before taking a shot.
When one player took a long shot from well outside the area it shot over the bar.
As he crowd went 'ooh' Cyril turned round and said: “You don’t get f** three points for shouting ooh.”
Luckily, my medical skills were only needed once and that was when the linesman twisted his ankle.
A few years later I was given an official role at the club, crowd doctor.
Some new rules came in insisting that every club needed two doctors, one for the team and one for the crowd.
And so I joined the St John Ambulance team to watch the match.
The medical side was not like an exciting episode of Casualty or Holby City.
Not many people in the crowd fall ill but I remember an elderly man in the away end suddenly feeling faint. He had got up early, taken the coach over 200 miles from Burton, missed lunch and now had to stand.
We sat him down and 'cured' him with a cup of tea and a biscuit. I admired his commitment.
I’m sure that there is a PhD thesis waiting to be written about the psychology behind football supporters.
Why is anyone so mad as to waste emotional energy watching grown men kicking a ball?
I can only speak personally. In my job I knew that if I got anything wrong I might miss a cancer or meningitis.
Supporting Torquay gave me a chance to become highly stressed and excited about something which (and whisper this quietly) doesn’t really matter.
I’m disappointed that we are not yet in the Football League but underneath my emotions I know that the pandemic or climate change is more important.
Anyway, there’s always next year.