THERE is no doubt Jets fan Chad Eacott was serious when he said in this paper a fortnight ago that he felt like ‘‘his heart had been ripped out’’. The day before Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group had shocked the soccer world when it announced it was handing back the Newcastle Jets A-league licence to Football Federation Australia. I suspect most people were, like me, shocked that Mr Tinkler would be willing to generate the illwill of such a move when he’d dressed his purchases of the Jets and the Knights as goodwill, and others, like Mr Eacott, were shocked by the threat to the Jets.
But heart ripped out? Or even just, as Mr Eacott described it in another sentence, a huge blow?
Chad and Kira Eacott are in the company of thousands of similarly stricken Jets fans, and as I was driving to and fro on Friday I saw many of them in Jets colours making their way to Hunter Stadium to, I read, throw their support behind the Jets. As you know, soccer people are very good at throwing themselves around, and they went wild, this paper reported, when former Newcastle star player Andy Roberts proclaimed that ‘‘football needs Newcastle and Newcastle needs football". He was serious.
So what is it in the mind of a football fan that suspends reality? What is it that leads Chad Eacott to feel like his heart has been ripped out, to have a credible person make a loud public statement that Newcastle and football need each other? Mr Eacott didn’t feel that way, not even figuratively, and neither Newcastle nor football needs the other.
Fans talk of pride, but pride in what? They’ve made no contribution to a victory or a game well played, unless they count their noise as a contribution. They talk of the team being their home team, when in the great majority of cases the players are not from their home or often even from their social and cultural background. The attraction for many will be the simplicity and the certainty of this tribalism – their world is very easily divided into friend and foe.
But not even belonging can explain the hysteria of the Jets fans faced with the threat to the team, and such is their frenzy that it seems they see soccer as life itself. And perhaps they have so little to do that it is life itself. Soccer fans are the most frenzied of all football fans, and if you’ve seen the members of the Jets’ supporters group, the Squadron, and witnessed their antics you’ll see that my theory about having little to do has particular merit.
Still, I’m sure there are men and women described as Jets supporters who do have a significant life, and I am equally sure that these people won’t see soccer as anything other than a game. For these people losing the Jets will be about as distressing as having the local pinball parlour close, and that will be forgotten after their first afternoon cheering Mr Tinkler’s Knights. The Eacotts are about to find a new significance in the arrival of their first child, and so I expect you’ll see the three of them at a Knights game soon.
Can you explain the frenzy of football fans? Should it be encouraged or even tolerated?