It’s the hope that kills you

It feels appropriate to dig out one of my posts from 2 years ago. To remind people, the subject related to “Hope”, and how, as a football fan, especially of the Scotland national team, it can play dreadful tricks with your mind.

Well, yesterday was an excellent case in point. As our boys in dark blue set about the task of tackling England, a nation 50 places higher in world ranking, my hope and expectations remained firmly on the floor. I’d been there too many times to let myself get carried away with fanciful notions of victory. Yes, I know if you look through the history books of this, the oldest international fixture in football, you’ll find that Scotland have held their own against the “Auld Enemy”. In fact, for a country with barely a tenth of the population of its southern neighbour it has a remarkable record of success. But, not so much in recent years. No victory in the 21st Century, and the last three encounters have all resulted in us leaking three goals per game.

The signs were not good, and I was ready. Ready for us to lose, ready for a plucky but not quite good enough performance, and ready not to be too disappointed. Realism at its best. I had tamed the beast. Only years of experience of handling disappointment can prepare you for this. There would be younger, more hopeful supporters dreaming of glory. Good luck to them, but they too will one day come to learn.

There I was, calm as can be. It was playing out just as I had expected. England weren’t playing brilliantly well, but they always looked the more likely team to score. And score they did. It was inevitable, it was fate, it was only a matter of time. I was right. Right to not let the beast take hold of me. Then it happened. In the cruellest of ways possible, it happened. Just when your guard drops, and you feel you have conquered your demons, the beast of “Hope” springs at you from behind the sofa. That’s right, Scotland, from nowhere, and with no warning, score TWO, NOT ONE BUT TWO, extraordinary goals. What strange form of madness was this? What do I do now? The game is finished. Only injury time to be played. My pledge to not allow the demons to take hold of me has been rocked. All was under control and now it is taunting me. Come on, it seems to say. Allow yourself to Dream, to Cheer, to Savour and, yes, to Hope. Only 90 seconds of injury time on the clock, what can possibly go wrong now. This is it. This is the moment. One of the greatest victories in Scotland’s history. The boys will be legends. They will be immortal. YES, YES, YES – you’re right – this is it! They have done it, what an amazing turnaround.

But, I should have known. It was a moment of weakness. I had dropped my guard for a second, and BOOM! That was it. I had let Hope enter, only for it to mock me and ridicule me once again. Yes, Scotland could not contain their emotions long enough to see the game out professionally. Excitement and Passion mixed to create a collective head-rush amongst the players and allowed England to sneak one final unchallenged touch on the ball to prod it into the empty Hampden net. For 3 minutes it had been a rush. People dreamed the unbelievable. People believed. People were already constructing their “I was there…” stories. I had been so careful. So cautious. So impregnable. But, what can you do. Hope is a cruel mistress.

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“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair.  It’s the hope I can’t stand. ~ John Cleese (as Brian Stimpson in the film Clockwise)

Those who know me well will know that I am a long-suffering Scotland football fan. I have followed the national team for more years than I care to remember. Anyone who knows anything about sport in general, and perhaps football in particular, will recognise the dilemma that most football fans face. That is, they cannot always ‘choose’ their team.  As a professional coach and a psychologist who spends most of his life spreading the message that we all have choice, this does not sit well with ‘what I know’.  Why don’t I simply support Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Argentina or whatever team is top of the division on any given week?  That would be easy. It would take away a lot of the pain and…

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