Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lessons in Life

photo by Bromiskellyvia PhotoRee

Our Hammers' fan, Ian, returns with the latest installment of his ode to the Irons.  He would have graced our fine pages sooner but for his undercover work serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Olympic Park Legacy Company.  Please feel free to disregard any of his Lessons as you see fit, especially Lesson #7.  Herewith, Ian:
In my previous article, I discussed how being a fan of West Ham has taught me lessons in how to live my life that I wouldn’t have learned by supporting a more successful team. It sounds like I’m obsessed but I get upset when people tell me that football is “just a game.” Actually, I have been more than upset on occasion and almost flown into a rage, swear words pouring out of my mouth. I stand by my convictions though – it is more than just a game.
I don’t say this just because it means so much to me and influences my mood so heavily. I say it because I also believe that football (and many other sports) can help develop positive character traits. This takes me back to an essay that I had to write at university on the social history of sport (I studied and loved history and needless to say, I really enjoyed writing that particular essay). I won’t bore you with too many details but one section of that essay focused on how the better-off Victorians thought that they could help decrease the violence and alcoholism of the working classes by organising sports teams. They could use sport as a tool for teaching social skills, while keeping people active and off the streets. It is no coincidence that so many English football teams started off as church teams or workplace teams, including my beloved West Ham – the Thames Ironworks F.C.
So, just to reiterate (in case I wasn’t clear enough earlier) football is and always will be more than a game to me. Without meaning to marginalise the outstanding efforts of my parents in raising me, football – and West Ham in particular - helped to form part of my character as it is today. Actually, my dad can take credit for that too because it was him (and my brother) that introduced me to the sport in the first place. The lessons that I have learned are certainly not all totally from the school of football (again, my parents take most of the credit) but football has definitely reinforced those lessons through the years. Anyway, what have I learned?
Lesson 1 – All the talent in the world will only get you so far. Without hard work and a sense of teamwork, you can still fail. Just look at the West Ham team that got relegated in 2003 – how can such a group of talented individuals get relegated? OK, injuries played a part in that (Ian Pearce, a defender, as our only available striker for several games??) but clearly that group of players was not a team and did not work hard enough until it was too late. I see so many similarities this season and that is why I have resigned myself to the fact that we will probably be relegated again this year. We have a decent group of players but at times they have looked like they have never met each other. Some (although not all of them) look like they are just going through the motions and forget that they have to work hard for the whole game (a momentary lapse of focus has cost us dear on several occasions this season). There are recent signs of improvement but it needs to be consistent for us to stand any chance of survival.
Lesson 2 – You can’t always get what you want, but as long as you give it your all, you can still hold your head up high. The season of 1985-86 was remarkable for West Ham – to finish third and so close to an all-conquering Liverpool side that season was a great achievement. We didn’t get what we wanted – the dream of a championship – but those players all left everything on the field that season and it is obvious that they are still so proud of their efforts. West Ham fans are realistic in their expectations of trophies (i.e., we don’t expect any) but always expect the players to give everything to the cause. It is no surprise that Billy Bonds and Julian Dicks (two players that epitomised that attitude) are such heroes at West Ham.
Lesson 3 – Be magnanimous in victory and honorable in defeat. My brother used to have (and probably still has) a fondness for Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” and it resonates with me too – it’s a pretty good guideline for how to conduct yourself. The following extract in particular is of relevance here: “… If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same …” I have to admit that this lesson is one that I am yet to fully learn. It is one that I know I should learn but I just can’t resist taunting friends when West Ham have beaten their teams, and given that I go into a sulk when West Ham lose, I’m probably not all that honorable in defeat either. I should know better by now but the taunting always comes back to haunt me. West Ham will inevitably be humiliated the next time we play that team and then the shoe is on the other foot. Damn you, karma!
Lesson 4 – Enjoy the good times and put the bad times in perspective. Hard though it might be, I do have to try to accept in the bad times, that it is “just a game” and that life goes on. Disappointment experienced as a West Ham fan does somewhat prepare you for handling disappointment in other aspects of life. It also makes the good times that much sweeter and I have learnt to cherish them as they arise. Be careful how much those moments are enjoyed, otherwise you run the risk of falling foul of lesson 3 above.
Lesson 5 – Try to see the humour in situations. Brits have a great sense of irony and tremendous self-deprecating humour. I have learnt to appreciate this even more while living in the United States. Terrace chants and songs are a wonderful example of this humour. West Ham fans have made me laugh on many occasions when my other option was to cry. At times when West Ham have been trailing games, such chants of “Let’s pretend we scored a goal” (followed by celebratory cheers) or “6-5; we’re going to win 6-5” have lessened the sinking feeling. My wife (who was upset at not getting a mention in my last article – here you go honey, here’s a mention) is the best person I know at making me smile and has a knack of knowing the right thing to say to make me laugh when I’m feeling down. West Ham fans follow her in second place in that category.
Lesson 6 – It is important to be passionate about something. Paolo di Canio is one of the greatest players to have graced the Boleyn Ground - a complete headcase but there is no denying his talent. But it’s more than just talent that made him stand out to me. It’s not just hard work, team work and commitment that set him apart either (see lessons 1 and 2). It was his passion. Before he even played a game in a claret and blue shirt, that was obvious to me. How many players have been sent off because, in the heat of the game they have argued about a throw-in and received a yellow card for it, argued some more and received a second (as Paolo did for Sheffield Wednesday)? And then there is his infamous push on the referee (and the ref’s comedy tumble) that earned him a ban. Pure passion. My passion is football; my wife’s is shopping. Others get their kicks from stamp collecting, train spotting or bird watching. Whatever it is, it is important to be passionate about at least one thing in life. Being apathetic about everything must lead to such a depressing mundane life.
Lesson 7 – Chelsea, Millwall, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and anything associated with them should be classified as scum. That last lesson is vitally important …. OK, it’s not but I’m always suspicious of fans of those teams until they are proven trustworthy. Perhaps I’ve taken it too far there; perhaps not.
This is farlieonfootie for March 10.

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