I have followed the English Premier League closely for the best part of two decades as a Manchester United fan. There were years when I used to catch every Manchester United game – that hasn’t been the case since our kids arrived. But I still catch highlights as often as possible and follow the news closely. I’ve learnt three lessons along the way:
(1) Don’t read too much into early excitement/narratives without proof. This is the most enduring lesson I’ve learnt. It is so easy to get excited about the new thing. New manager or player comes in. Everyone gets excited. The first three games go great. More excitement – the new person can do no wrong. Then reality hits. Before you know it, the narrative flips. Everyone moves onto the next thing.
This has happened so often that I’ve learnt to completely ignore early narratives without proof.
(2) Consistency in the long run is the only thing that matters. The quote I think of is – people come for the magic and stay for the math. In the long run, it is the consistency in delivering numbers (goals, saves, points) that counts. The rest is gravy.
(3) Most things look cooler from the outside. In my years following the Premier League from Asia, I used to envy supporters who got to watch matches live. You can imagine how excited I was about an early career opportunity to live in London. It felt like a dream come true.
I watched some really exciting games during my time in the UK. It was a great experience. But as I got close to the culture around watching games live, I realized it wasn’t for me. There’s a lot of identity wrapped around being a fan that does funny things to people. For example, I had a friend send some fairly hostile messages during a game where we were on opposing sides.
Then there was another incident where a player got hurt and I heard the opposition fans chant “Let him die.” Turns out that is far from the worst chant you might hear in high-profile games.
I’d still love to watch a game or two live in the coming years. But that’s about as close as I’d want to get to being a live supporter. It isn’t for me. And it has been a great reminder of the idea that most things look cooler from the outside.
A lesson – like the other two – that applies well beyond football.