The (non-alcoholic) football hangover

You know the feeling: your head is groggy, it’s hard to leave the comfort of your bed and face the world and you just can’t shake that black cloud sitting over your head all day.

No, not a hangover from a pint too many – but the feeling to be overcome when your team has a particularly bad day at the office and you’re left to cope with the fallout. Welcome to the world of being a football supporter!

Whether it’s conceding a late equaliser, watching your team capitulate without a fight or realising that your hope is just that (hope, rather than reality) – little else can affect the emotions and well being of a football fan more.

If you believe and support a cause to the degree that you spend thousands of euro each year traipsing around the country, then the delight of success and disappointment of failure are, unfortunately, entwined in the experience.

I still remember the disappointment of having Alan Bennett leave Cork City FC in 2007. A key part of the League-winning City side in 2005, other players had moved on before him. But Alan was the quiet hero – the type of player that fans only really appreciated when he wasn’t playing – and the fact that he too could move on to better things was a moment of stark clarity.

City had claimed a title with a fantastic team, yes, but with that same success came agents, overseas managers and the reality that players will always go if they have the chance. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with that but as a supporter, it’s a hard thing to come to terms with at times because we never ‘move on’. There is nothing better out there than our own club.

In sharp contrast was the night in 2011 when, surrounding by family, long-time friends and many, many Cork City fans I’ve known for years, I witnessed Cork City reclaim a place in the Premier Division in spectacularly dramatic fashion. Graham Cummins’ 94th minute winner against Shelbourne at Tolka Park and the hours that followed will always be very special. It was the culmination of months and months of work by many people – and the emotions were many: pure joy, relief, pride, a sense of togetherness and achievement, unity… the list could go on and on.

The rollercoaster ride also continues relentlessly each and every season. In facing huge challenges and obstacles (such as Coventry City’s proposed moved away from Coventry for instance), supporters become united behind one goal or objective. When a situation is less critical, fans are pre-occupied with other matters, usually diverse and numerous in nature but no less important at that time and place.

Last night Cork City FC overcame the defending League of Ireland champions Sligo Rovers 3-1 at Turner’s Cross. There were many things to admire – the team’s fight and spirit, the performance of debut boy Ciarán Kilduff, the continuing return to form of Daryl Horgan, the fact the club won a game on TV (!).

The humour of supporters leaving the ground was equally telling. There was a bounce in everyone’s step, the mood was upbeat with talk of ‘pushing on’ from here. Go back a few weeks to the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final draw with Shamrock Rovers at Turner’s Cross though, and there was a sharp, sharp contrast to be seen.

City played well for most of the game and, justifiably, looked to be on their way to an All-Ireland Cup final in Tallaght. Cue a last minute equaliser and the sudden and devastating (well, it felt that way at the time) realisation that not only had we been caught late on (again), but we were also out of the competition altogether, having been the better of the teams over the two legs. I was a grump for days after that – and non-sports people just don’t have any understanding as to why a particular result either way can have such an effect.

Each football fan will have their own moments of heaven and heartbreak. Speaking to a Malmo fan recently and he recalled the time his team narrowly missed out on European qualification. He rang home to hear his son in tears and his wife saying: ‘See what you have done’.

The people around us – friends, family and fellow fans – are usually a central element, but one thing is for certain: you cannot have passion without emotions and you cannot have football without supporters. They are the Heart of the Game and they are always behind their team – throughout the celebrations AND hangovers…

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