Is football enjoyable? As a club owner it is surprisingly difficult to answer | Grimsby

Tin months into football club ownership and the question that comes up with most frequency is: “Are you enjoying it?” Normally this would be a straightforward question to answer and yet it struck me as surprisingly difficult until I had the time to think properly about it.

Football is both of and for our communities, holds up a mirror to our society and gives us a unique window into human behavior and psychology. On occasion it offers a powerful metaphor for the things in life worth striving for and an opportunity to be part of what Jon Yates, in his book Fractured, calls the “common life”: moments of shared experience that are not dependent on class, education , race or any other variable but become the moments that allow us to see beyond the boundaries and prejudices that our politics are often reinforcing. Football has the ability to remind us of our collective power and the sense of community.

But when I am asked whether I am enjoying the experience of football ownership, the short answer is “no”, in part because of the lack of rationality in the game. It’s not enjoyable on a day-to-day basis but neither should it be. In the same way that some people have an obsession with “happiness” or “success” as a goal in life, consistent enjoyment is unattainable and undesirable as a permanent state. As Viktor Frankl stated in his seminal work, Man’s Search For Meaning: “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must dream.”

The last 10 months have been a massive opportunity to learn, to connect, to be challenged and to be part of a community’s story that is bigger than our own. The moments of joy are rare, but intense. Jordan Maguire-Drew’s last-minute equalizer against Halifax, John McAtee’s absolute peach of a volley against Altrincham later in January, Gavan Holohan’s perfect first goal for the club versus Chesterfield earlier this month.

The intensity and frequency of these emotions often hijack our rationality and undermine our long-term thinking, the parts of our brain that are underdeveloped compared with our emotional, intuitive brains. In this way, the game offers an important way to think about the biases, our search for certainty and the place for our emotions in decision-making.

We know much more about decision-making from recent advances in evolutionary biology and modern psychology. I really like the analogy by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who stated that our rational mind is like a rider on the back of an elephant, where the elephant represents our emotions and intuitions and the rider represents our rational thought. When you lose 1-0 at home, that runaway elephant insists we sack the manager, while the rider tries to hold on and whispers in the elephant’s ear that we worked hard, played well and there’s always next week.

Jason Stockwood (front) watching Grimsby play Salford before he later became club chairman. Photograph: ProSports/Shutterstock

At Grimsby we had the best start to the season since 1982 and then, from late October, we went 11 games with only one win. “Attribution bias” is falsely crediting capabilities retrospectively to actions. It assumes that when you are winning you are skilful and capable but as soon as you start losing you suddenly become a failure and you are talentless. The attribution of talent and then its inverse in such a short space of time clearly makes no sense, particularly for people who have years of experience in the game. When we looked at the differences in performances between 10-game blocks of the season there was not a lot of difference in work rate and goal chances. We lost most games by a single goal and failed to score.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, luck and chance play a more significant role in our lives and we often underestimate their impact. Yet, in the space of 90 minutes of play it should be clear to anyone who has ever watched a game that there are multiple possible worlds that play out differently if a player is not injured, if a decision goes a different way or if a goal goes in rather than a ball hit the post. It is a constant reminder of the fragility of reality that small changes in variables can affect massive differences in outcome.

Alongside the acknowledgment of the multiplicity of life we ​​need more empathy and perspective. I normally sit high in our largest stand and watch the game from a vantage point where you can see the whole game’s mathematical possibilities – all of the spaces and options available at all times to all players. The following week I was on the opposite side of our ground, five rows back, almost pitch level, experiencing the game close to as a manager would see it. The difference was staggering. Closer to the action there was a much more singular view of the play and I felt much more empathy for the players and staff because your perspective dictates the amount of actual space you can see rather than possible options. We hardly ever think of what the manager, player or – dare I say it – referee is actually seeing rather than all of the options we can see in a stadium or on TV. Perspective is everything and yet we hardly ever consider that.

In football and in life, when emotions are high it’s hard to detach from our passion and engage rationally. It’s even harder to have empathy for those actually in the game observed from high in the stands. Ten months in and it seems clear that if we want to build something that will last then ownership requires a more rational element to match the emotion that the game generates. I also believe we need to think about our individual perspective and have more empathy for those around us. If we can do that, maybe we could all enjoy the game a bit more.

Jason Stockwood is the chairman of Grimsby Town

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.