Three weeks ago, following a 3-2 defeat to Shaktar Donesk, Zinedine Zidane was asked if he believed he could fix the problems at Real Madrid. “Yes,” he replied. “I think I’m capable of fixing this and that’s what I’ll try to do. The players will too. We need to find solutions and we will. The season has just started and we need to turn this around by being united. It’s a second bad match in a row, but now we have to prepare for the next match on Saturday.”
For a few weeks he had miraculously done just that, with wins in key fixtures against Barcelona and Inter Milan. There was a disappointing draw against Borrussia Mönchengladbach, but up until recently, one would have been led to believe that things are going in the right directions. A rout against Valencia, however led to yet another press conference where, though the questions were different, the answers were predictably familiar “I don’t think Valencia were tactically better, but I am the one to blame because I’m the one who needs to find solutions.”
The deja vu wasn’t limited to the press room, the same old stories were pedalled out following defeat to Valencia and, inevitably, a similar barrage awaits after a disappointing draw to Villarreal. This not mentioning the thousands screaming into the abyss of Twitter with their own opinions which are undoubtedly being ferociously rebuffed by someone else with a different opinion. All this until the next match.
To be frank, criticism regardless of the scoreline is just at the moment. Real Madrid have objectively started this season poorly and no matter who you choose to blame the most for that, everyone seems to be part of the problem in their own way at the moment. In spite of knowing this fact, I can’t help but find everything to do with Real Madrid quite draining right now.
There seems to be plenty in the world (this year of all years) to get depressed about. A pandemic is keeping friends and a family apart and forcing us to do little else but listen to a prolonged and terrifying US election cycle as well as daily updates about how many people have died from COVID-19 today (speaking from an Irish perspective here). At times like these, football should provide an escape from the real world, something more needed than ever.
That isn’t always true however and supporting Real Madrid can often feel like a prison of its own. It’s strange that something as pedestrian as kicking a ball around a pitch could impact your mental health and yet it does make some sense. Few sports can reel someone in emotionally like soccer can and returning week in, week out inevitably leads to you putting a little bit of your heart behind your favourite football team. Doing so is all worth it when your side win, but it takes its toll when they lose and its something everyone manages differently.
Personally, I have often found that I do my best work when Real Madrid aren’t playing well. Across nearly four years of sport work, I feel my best season of quality writing was 2018-19. That, for all sorts of reasons, the exact opposite has occurred this year has really affected my relationship with football. I haven’t watched a Real Madrid game since the win over Eibar and though I continue to watch Castilla, I’ve found myself in a bit of a rut when it comes to writing, a fact that has stirred up all sorts of feelings of guilt and frustration. Fortunately, I - and anyone else who relates to this - can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
A Study in the Journal of Psychological Science measured the average consumption of food of a sports fan on a Monday to see how it changed while watching their favourite team. The study found that sports fan eat 16% more saturated fats than usual when their team is losing compared to 9% more than usual when their team is winning.
Different studies have already found that the fortunes of a fan’s favourite team can have an impact on an individual’s self esteem, a fact reflected in how sports fans often talk in the first person when their team has won and the third when their team loses. Not a day goes by where a big Twitter account doesn’t announce that they are taking a break because things have gotten too toxic for them following their favourite football team. The beautiful game seems to get ugly for everyone at some stage and what I’ve listed above is just examples of the more reasonable reactions to a loss.
In 2015, following a defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou, a group of Real Madrid fans attacked Gareth Bale’s car while it was leaving the stadium. Acts of violence, racism and murder have all been committed in the name of some sort of sporting rivalry and demonstrates the worse of the worse that this pastime can bring out in people.
There is no excuse for getting violent or bigoted over sport, however, poor results seem to take their toll on every sports fan, so much so that they have become part of the fandom experience. Everyone has heard of the “if you can’t support us at our worse, don’t support us at our best” mantra and, in the right circumstances, its probably the best way to approach Real Madrid (that famous Arbeloa quote comes to mind). However, its also a poor excuse for allowing the club to negatively impact your life. Everyone has the right to turn off the TV or disconnect from social media if they feel its becoming too much, it doesn’t make you a bad fan, it just makes you human.