Belfast Telegraph

It’s a crying shame that football makes men weep

By Liz Hoggard

I feel like I've been witnessing some extraordinary male romantic comedy all week.

The signs are there: drinking, binge eating, excessive anger, followed by weepy reconciliation. In the office, on the bus, grown men pour their hearts out. You watch in trepidation— of course we were going to lose. We've never been in a bloody final since 1966.

There's something remarkable about the devotion football arouses in the straight male. He uses phrases like “deep pain” and “euphoria”. His capacity to love is seriously tested. “Oh God,” a female colleague sighs. “When will it all be over? It's the worst sort of passive-aggressive love affair.” It's fair to say I'm not a fan. I didn't watch the England-Germany game because of sport fatigue and my lack of love for those overpaid, sexually incontinent players, who were bound to break our boys' hearts.

Mostly I benefit from the World Cup. The streets are empty. I borrow other men's wives for cocktails. Every night is Ladies' Night. I loved FIFA's hilarious list of instructions for fans to give to partners. “You can talk to me at half-time but only when the commercials are on, and only if the half-time score is pleasing me. In addition please note I am saying ‘one' game, hence do not use the World Cup as a nice cheesy excuse to spend time together'.”

Forget He's Just Not That Into You, it was the best dating advice I've read in ages. Of course it's not just straight men who adore football. My lesbian sister toured Germany during the last World Cup in a camper van. Last Friday, when I tactlessly arrived five minutes from the end of the Portugal-Brazil match, my clever gay friend Peter took me through the action without mentioning their magnificent thighs once (the only thing I noticed).

England fans, once the worst serial offender for hooliganism, proved rather dignified in South Africa. I can't be the only one who was fascinated to see a dejected fan break in to the dressing room to talk about their feelings with David Beckham and the team. And I thought it was women who got upset?

Certainly, men should embrace any chance to hone their emotional skills. A new study into perceptual neuroscience says heterosexual alpha males are hopeless at remembering people, connecting, and rapport. While women and gay men are more interested in reading emotion, they are too absorbed in their emotions to practice face mapping.

The thing that really mystifies me is why men can't plough all that energy and hope — and grief — that sport inspires into something that actually matters out in the real world? I've volunteered several times in my life — from HIV and Aids projects to feminist causes — and you know what, it's always women and gay men doing the work. Where are the straight men?

There is a downside to the Great Football Romance. Domestic violence is football's dirty little secret. During the 2006 World Cup, reports of domestic abuse increased by nearly a third (30%) on England match days. A friend who works for a domestic violence charity says: “After all that drinking, it's a very live issue. If England lose, he's furious, and more likely to take it out on his partner and children. If we win, he may be so exuberant he demands sex. If she says no, it gets ugly ...”

Arguably blind obsession brings out the very best — and worst — in the male psyche. That's something for us all to ponder in a week where Debenhams has launched a high-profile campaign encouraging men to become part of the solution to ending violence against women. The campaign featuring Women's Aid Ambassadors, including actor Max Beesley, Magic FM's Neil Fox, Will Young, Duncan Bannatyne and the rugby players Danny Care and Ugo Monye — sends out the clear message that a ‘Real Man’ would never be abusive or violent towards a partner.

Bravo! More please. Football proves men can love something, make sacrifices for it, bond and weep with strangers over a common goal. They can be articulate and passionate and move mountains. Now can we dry our tears — and actually use that for something serious?

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