Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Optimism plus football = a curse

I have always been an optimist.

While some people agonise whether their glass is ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’, I’m usually searching for a cloth because the liquid in my glass is spilling over the sides. But, you know what, being an optimist isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be – for as people in truly hopeless situations often say, it’s the hope that really kills you.
Take sport.

This weekend the little matter of the footballing World Cup begins in downtown South Africa. Often described as the biggest sporting event in the world – although obviously the Olympics would contest that – the next month or so will focus the eyes, ears and passions of millions of disparate people from across the globe. The trouble is for those of us of the optimistic nature, it’s not enough to see our country taking part in such a magnificent event – we really believe our country is going to win it.
Before a ball is kicked this time there will be optimistic Algerians, North Koreans and even the odd Kiwi who will genuinely believe that come the middle of July it will be their captain lifting the cup aloft in Johannesburg.

Ever since I’ve been old enough to take an interest in these events, I’ve always believed England would win. No amount of evidence to the contrary – bad players, bad managers, bad form or just general bad vibes – would stop me believing in our ‘inevitable’ glory. I always convince myself when I look at the team (and usually I ignore the others!), that we are untouchable. It’s a failing I know, but that’s what optimism does for you.

But, time and time again, whether it’s that World Cup or its smaller but no less painful sibling, the European Championships, my optimism from day one is usually rewarded with tears of frustration and despair by day three, 13 or, if we are lucky, 23.

So is that where I am this time? Well, strangely, no.

This time, for the first time I can remember, I do not feel quite as optimistic as usual. Although I think England have a very good manager and a smattering of very good players, I don’t sense the streak of ‘we’re invincible’ blood running through my veins that I normally discover on the eve of such tournaments.

Normally I’m like King Canute, ignoring the waves lapping away at my feet as I sit there looking out and only seeing a gold trophy. This time I felt the first drop of water. Reality had kicked in.
For me, it was odd.

And yet . . .

The curse of the optimist is I’ve actually now seen this as a good sign. In the past when I’ve been totally hyped-up and full of belief (only to see all my hopes cruelly dashed) I’ve questioned whether my optimism really has helped me. Therefore as I enter a tournament when I’m not dancing around in ‘we’re gonna win’ excitement mode, I am thinking lowering my expectations might be a positive act.

So if we do go on and win it (there I go again!) I think I may have to revise my perception that optimism is actually good for me.

‘Half empty’? Bring it on.

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