Norwich City have helped make football better than ever– are you missing out on the thrills?
PUBLISHED: 17:03 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:14 17 May 2019
Steven Downes says he has never been so in love with the beautiful game as he has been this season
Football is a funny old game. Football is also a silly old game, according to some po-faced grumblers. There are those who still consider this great sport to be "22 grown men, wearing ridiculous costumes, chasing a pig's bladder around a field."
The clear meaning is that footballers and football fans need to grow up. But I will not grow up - it's rather a dull prospect. Growing up is for boring people: it's a bit like taking semi-retirement from life.
Aged 45, I'm enjoying playing the game more than ever. And this season, being a Norwich City fan has been a frown-shifting, mood-lifting delight.
Meanwhile, Liverpool and Man City shadowed each other until City breasted the tape on the final day of the Premier League. The Champions League has been sensational. Managers have burned their How to Defend books and the ensuing dramas have out-twisted Line of Duty and out-turned Game of Thrones. Many of those who sneer at football will watch one or both of those shows. But they are missing out on the most gripping, absorbing, draining and uplifting drama of all.
Football is a drama without a definite plot, with endless episodes.
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Each season features new stars, old stars, villains aplenty and more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing. Characters get injured or axed, sometimes to side with an enemy army. And all through, nobody can predict what will happen - sometimes a giant is slain, or a halo slips. Above the drama, it is football's power to move our souls that makes the naysayers sound so silly.
Nothing else has the same power to unite us: witness the 50,000 who lined the streets of Norwich for the Canaries' promotion parade. As the season has gone on, Daniel Farke and his players have caused tens of thousands of fans to be infected with broad smiles and that warm glow inside that is only matched by eating Ready Brek.
I remember the darkest days for football: the '80s, when hooliganism, Heysel and Hillsborough almost brought the game to its knees. Attendances across England were pitiful, the football largely pedestrian - and Margaret Thatcher and the MP and Luton chairman David Evans were championing an identity card scheme for all fans. They were among a significant number of people who considered football to be uncouth, unnecessary and expendable.
It was a puke on the pavement of our reputation abroad. It needed to be rigidly controlled or put to death. But the soul of football could not - and will never - be killed.
Today it is bigger, better, more exciting than ever. I would argue that nothing matches football for the contribution it makes to our collective wellbeing. It brings extreme joy and deep despair - but it always leaves behind hope. Whatever happens to your team, you can hope for better - in the next match, the next season or even the next decade.
It's just as well that hope exists for Ipswich fans, for what else have they got? It fosters a sense of community and pride. It is an outlet for anger, pain and elation. It is multinational, global and hyper-local. This season, it has been gob-smacking, providing entertainment that theatre impresarios would die for. And yet people sneer at football and its supporters.
I pity these people. Get a life - get into football.
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