The Consummate Sports Spectator

by Mario Carrera

Sitting in the North Stand watching Pattaya United play football with just over 2700 of my friends is one of the joys of being a specialist sports spectator. So many thoughts, ideas, memories and sensory pulses flow as the game waves through time.

Being a specialist sports spectator is an interesting position. There are many aspects to the joys of sports. Playing the game is one part but being in the banter, the raucousness of the fan base or murkiness of administration are others. After all where would the Dolphins be without the flag-waving, drum-beating Ultras? A fan base is important to any team even if that fan base is made up of reluctant family or trialists. Al Ain SC has the Purple Army while England’s cricket team have the Barmy Army, and Liverpool their Kopites.

Why do we watch sports? Several reasons are obvious; ability, age, and expense are a few. However, there are those that are not so obvious, numbers, equipment, knowledge of its existence and simple interest. Sepak Takraw is popular in Thailand but not so in Venezuela. Mention Gaelic football or hurling and many people go blank. Our high school did not play rugby for the fear of injury despite being considered a sports school.

Sports supply entertainment value to viewers despite ability, age or interest. Rugby 7s started as a fun run around by two Scottish butchers. That social connect binds us at the most primal level. What better ice breaker than what team do you support?

Watching the early stages of professional football in Trinidad in the late 1990’s, there was a camaraderie among the supporters. About 40 of us turned up regularly to games in the Northern part of the country. As in the Dolphin stands where the regulars attend. We knew each other by faces, not names, yet enquiries were made if absent for a period. Whether a provincial game in Ireland or a World Cup game being in the stands gives us an opportunity for socialization, support and shouting. The universality of spectatorship is more than just a concept.

Being in Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup or 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup can be just as exciting as watching Cork versus Tippery in hurling. The language of spectatorship is similar though an understanding of the game helps when supporting. It is funny and confusing to hear American football terms being used in the global football game. From MLS commentators to fans in the stands, the audio, is shocking.

Watching sports television is probably the best way to learn a language. Good commentators are skilled users of the language with in-depth knowledge of the game. Tommy Smyth is a classic old school pro that entertains us, though some might go for John Motson. We all have our favorites, though after FIFA Brazil 2014 some men are considering Korean (Jang Ye-won).

Some sports are difficult for spectators such as golf but being in the clubhouse afterwards listening to the stories of drives, slices and spectacular putts can deliver more adult entertainment than a 1980’s Playboy. I have tried playing golf and know why the term handicap exists !

Women’s sports are sometimes more interesting, entertaining and intense than the men’s game. Two instances highlight the phenomenon. Watching a women’s final Gaelic match in Bahrain 2009 showed me and a few hundred others how intense and competitive women can be. The men’s finalists were heard to say that they would be afraid to play the winning women’s team. FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 was more entertaining than the men’s version. Sitting in a bar in Muscat, there were two screens with football on. Most started off watching the South American championship but by the end of the game most men were watching Japan versus Germany women’s game - one of the best games of football ever! Though silently supporting Sepp’s suggestion, women’s sports still earns their support.

There are some conflicting situations, especially among expatriates or mixed couples. Thailand versus Brazil in volleyball, the wife is Thai and we are in Thailand. Careful negotiations are required. Surprises occur such as my first game supporting the Dolphins. The only other Trinidadian at the game scored two goals against Pattaya United when a masked cheer occurred.

When players change teams some supporters do serious soul searching, even worse when they cross to the dark side. Rangers to Celtic, Everton to Liverpool, Mets to Yankees, evoke horror, confusion, and counseling for the diehards. “The team is always bigger than the player but…..” is the collective groan.

Amateur sports can offer as much enjoyment as professional sports without the cost. Then what is amateurism? Athletics is supposed to be amateur, but many athletes are paid to “appear” or “participate” in events not race. One USA female sprinter likens international racing agents to pimps. “Go out there and get me my money,” may be something a Mama San says but also something athletes may relate too. Money in sports can (and have) produced a few doctoral dissertations. FIFA Scandals, 2005-2015 is my next doctorate topic.

Some sports that are called sports are of a questionable nature. Sports fishing comes to mind though the editing for TV makes a gallant attempt at justification. Synchronized swimming is, to me, an art just as contemporary dance. As a sport question mark appears. Competitive cheerleading falls into the same category, but let the people decide. After all a sport is defined as: using physical exertion and skill by an individual or group to compete against other individuals or groups, for entertainment.

Then there are the non-sports that should be sports and we are not talking about discount shopping. . Bar hopping is a common one in Pattaya. Making it from one end of Walking Street to the other in a single night visiting each bar on one side of the road and having a beer is analogous to a marathon where the ultra-marathoners make it back up the next side.

I have not been to an archery or dressage competition thus do not know about these. However with the array of events in Pattaya, they are on the bucket list. You may challenge watching F1 from my rooftop in Abu Dhabi but think about watching the ball in the last row at Eden Garden. So many sports events and only one me.

Being a sports spectator is more than being an armchair coach. Most events require being there live or at least in a gathering. Where two or three are gathered, let there be a game on. It is about learning (so that is what an offside is); sharing (you get the tickets I get the drinks); experiencing something new (what is that?); challenging oneself (how much more of this horror); control (do not go on the pitch as that Indonesian football fan); socializing (love, there is a game tonight, gotta’ go), and all the things that are recommended for a long healthy life.

Be proud of being a consummate sports spectator.