The Sporting Experience

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

By Jonathon Ward

If you don’t play sport, or passionately follow a sports team/person then you really are missing out on something special. The unbridled, uncontrollable explosions of ecstasy that blitz out from within us when the going is good. And boy, being a Bradford City fan of late, good is a snowflake upon the tip of the iceberg of superlatives that we could all throw at the players donning claret and amber in the last few years.

You have no control of your actions, you are just completely free and release that freedom in the heat of the moment without a trace of logic or pragmatism in your mind. Us City fans have been blessed with three lifetimes-worth of such magical moments of late, and if you could bottle up all that exuberant passion that emanates from each and every one of us in those tiny specific moments the fairytale notion of ‘World Peace’ wouldn’t be as far-fetched as it actually is.

If a stranger walked up to you in the middle of the street and gave you a hug, never mind that, if they just shook your hand, or even just came and approached you for a conversion, most of us would feel apprehensive, anxious, confused and skeptical of the ulterior motives of what is individual was wishing to achieve. Yet when moments like Sunday happen, when Billy Clarke’s corner-flag bound thump (slight exaggeration there) whacks off John O’Shea into the back of the net I found myself jack-rabbiting up and down like I was on hot coals and embracing all the other jubilant fans around me.

To my right, the rows in front and behind, I did not know these people, but we were all sharing in the same ecstasy, going “wild in the aisles” as Dale Winton would put it. This is what sport does and it doesn’t matter if you’re 8, 18 or 80. We are united in our pleasure. And even when the going isn’t as good, we are united in our defiance and in our relentless, unending love of the club – The League Cup Final flags says it all.

These memories are extra special because they never grow old when you revisit them years down the line and, more importantly, they are never tarnished. People who aren’t into sport cannot comprehend this, it’s a difficult enough task to put it into words myself, and I’m sports mad!

I’ve been lucky enough to witness in person my fair share of City’s new millennium miracle moments, a list which nobody ever gets tired of reading: Liverpool, Wigan, Arsenal, Villa x2, Wembley x2, Leeds, Millwall and now Mackem FC. But these feelings we allow to take over our bodies and emotions are felt just as strongly away from the pitchside.

Bearing witness to Wetherall, Hanson mk1 (Villa away) and Hanson mk2 (Leeds at home) I have had the exclusivity and privilege of being there for surely the three most amazing Bradford City headed goals of the twenty-first century, but thousands more shared these alongside me on their tellies and radios.

Like so many others I didn’t get a Chelsea ticket, but that didn’t hinder the screaming, shouting, running, exploding whilst listening on the radio – so much so my neighbours were banging on the wall. In fact, my favourite ever Bradford City memory was one I experienced through the wireless. Wolves 1999. I was in the back room with my granddad, a lifelong City fan who grew up on Cantebury estate – so often told tales of how he was the only Bantam follower amongst a sea of Avenue-ites.

When Peter Beagrie equilised we both went absolutely bananas, jumping up from the couch and running round the room, if there was space of doing a Klinsmann I reckon we both would’ve been face down in the carpet. My grandma came running in “What the bloody hell is going on in here!?” “Bradford City have scored Grandma!” – cue the unimpressed eye roll that everyone who doesn’t follow sport dishes out in such situations. They don’t get how something so “trivial” can mean so much to you. You don’t have to be there to experience the magic. That’s the beauty of sport.

We will all have a long list of such moments, where our joy and happiness is almost frothing out of every fibre of our being. And as we already know, the context around these memories is so strongly engraved in our memories they are never forgotten.

For me personally, other such moments outside of City are The Mo Farah/Jess Ennis/Greg Rutherford “Super Saturday”, the 2003 Challenge Cup Final in Cardiff, Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal, Germany 1 England 5, Lizzy Yarnold’s Sochi success, Ding Junhui at the 2011 Masters, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, and staying up until stupid o’clock in the morning to witness Sir Steve Redgrave win his fifth consecutive gold at Sydney 2000. Everyone will have their own special list and each time it is remembered that inexplicable feeling of *insert every known synonym for happiness* comes rushing back.

A comparative medium for those unsporting folk could arguably be music. Really hard-core passionate followers of groups or individuals, is their passion the same? Without question. But do they experience what we the sporting lovers experience? I think not.

In my younger days, as you do, I attended many gigs and concerts of the bands I thought the world of and yes it was an amazing rush and you are on a high for quite some time before, after and during. But you’re not telling me fans explode with such crazy inhibited reckless glee with every single song a group plays in a 90 minute set as us City fans do for each individual goal of the last few years.

In a more life-related context I would imagine the only thing to match this kind of feeling is having children. Something I can only speculate about. I have no doubt there is no greater and prouder feeling in life than being a parent, but if we boil it down the exact feeling we all experienced when Jon Stead bulged the back of that net on Sunday – is that really an emotion a parent would experience because little Lucy has got 10/10 on her spelling test, or starred in the school Nativity?

I 100% believe such moments are far more important and far more treasured than the highs and lows of a sporting fan, but the point still stands. It is a type of feeling and experience that nothing else in life can actually give us, and then survive with the same level of buzz and passion whenever it is remembered for the rest of our lives.

People who don’t follow sport can’t possibly understand. These are just deranged rantings of some overly excited football fan. But give it a try…it may just prove the most fulfilling experience of your life.

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Categories: Opinion

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