Chris King applies logic to football. Madness? You decide...
“He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
I’m a Spurs fan. I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment I became a Spurs fan – rough guess is that it would have been sometime in the 1980/81 season. All I know for sure is that it is something I became, rather than was born to be. So that one day, without reason, I went from being me – to being someone another person might despise; simply because of the team I supported.
But then, what if you could apply reason to supporting a football team. What if you could weigh up a host of variables – calculate your preferences rather than consider your emotions; and choose a team that best suited you. Would it make you any less of a fan?
I have a dream to one day stand on a curva in Italy – nord, sud, ovest, est – the compass point doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I am standing on that curva, talking passionately with those around me – with mouth and hands – about the game playing out in front of us. I speak only basic Italian, use only my mouth when I do speak and have no links to an Italian side.
But should that stop me dreaming?
I recently had a conversation on twitter with Rocco Cammisola – a Lazio fan who is the driving force behind The Football Express. We started to discuss how someone could use the language of football, to learn the language of another country. To follow a team through highlights, websites and newspaper articles – until such a time where you started to understand more about what was being said.
But which club? And how do you go about choosing one? Rocco’s solution would be to design a website or mobile phone app. Coding a flow of questions, with variable answers, that would eventually leave you with one club to choose from. Great I said, but that would take time, money – licensing arrangements - and we only had a month left before the start of the new season. So I had to go it alone. Had to think of my own questions, generate my own answers before choosing my new club.
My new club? Hmm, that didn’t sound right. In choosing a new club I would automatically contradict one of the earliest posts I put up on my own blog. It would also make me question my relationship with the game. Given the chance to choose a second team, for it would be a very distant second team - would I go for popularity, glory or style of play? Purists always talk fondly of a particular style of Tottenham player, but is there a like for like comparison of the wider club on the Italian peninsula?
Is there? I simply don’t know.
So – when in doubt, I thought the only way to proceed would be to adopt a similar approach I would use at work – planning and reviews.
I started off with a blank spreadsheet. On the left hand side I wrote a list of everything I could think of that triggered thoughts of Italy. Pizza, Romans, Pasta, Vino, Birra – I got down to about the eightieth line before I realised many were repetitions of the same theme. So I had a tidy up.
I focussed on the things I love about the country. Chose to look at areas where, if my dream ever came to fruition, I might like to live – where I’ve been, where I would like to go. As the list started to take shape – places, passions, wants – the rest of the spreadsheet started to almost fill itself. I like Barolo wine, so let’s write down the names of all the clubs in Piemonte; I like Roman Ruins – so any town with a viaduct or an amphitheatre found its way on to the spreadsheet.
I also threw in the notion that a football team should have a hook. My association with Spurs is part family related and part location; North London, where I was born. My hooks with Italy are less obvious, but I do have friends in Turin, got married in Tuscany, honeymooned around Naples and Sorrento and worked in Milan. In went those local clubs as well.
What I was left with was a list of 142 Italian clubs of varying size and quality. Which was clearly 141 too many. I worked out a formula by which to rapidly reduce the number. I attributed a points system based on each club’s current league status. Serie A sides would receive one point. I didn’t necessarily want a Serie A side – no glory hunting, even if the notion of fame and success is fairly logical. Serie B side got two, C1 – three, C2 – four (Serie C, or Lega Pro as it is officially known, is split in to two levels with two divisions in each level) and D or local leagues – five. I then timesed that score by the number of times each club appeared as part of the initial triggers I had on the left hand side e.g. Juventus appeared seven times across a host of triggers like wine, friends, stadium – giving them seven points.
I then applied a cut off of six points. Any club that scored five or less – basically a Serie D side mentioned once or a Serie A side that appeared five times – was automatically out. 142 quickly became 41. All points carried over.
I can already hear some of you say that I might have too much time on my hands. Well, the opposite is actually true. Once you start trying to logically pick a team to support – it very quickly takes over what spare time you have. I would be sat in meetings devising scoring charts when I should have been, at least pretending, to pay attention to yet another boring presentation slide.
Day three and I was beginning to deeply regret ever talking to Rocco.
For the sake of this website I have abridged the next part of the process. To get down to one club, I went through another four stages. Each stage had a series of themes that were chosen as a method by which to reduce the number of clubs going through to the next stage. Some of the themes were selected to determine how easy it would be to find anything out about the club – such as the quality and language of their website, or the ease by which you can get highlights out of YouTube.
The quality of the stadium, the desire to go to that location and what the surrounding area was like for a family holiday played an important part. As did seemingly trivial matters such as the name of the stadium or what colour kit the side played in. As I rolled through each stage, the number of clubs continued to drop at a rapid rate.
Going back to the notion of excluding sides based on success, I also put in a couple of themes that heavily penalised sides that were past and present champions, or had maintained a regular Serie A or B status. Finally, points were given to that hook factor. What could I hang on a club that said they were mine for any other reason than I put a pin in a map?
I eventually got down to five clubs: Pro Vercelli, Pro Patria, A.C. Pistoiese, Siracusa and Sorrento. What instantly struck me is that the two Pros, Vercelli and Patria had been part of a conversation I had, had with Rocco before I started this. Had that conversation swayed my thinking – my themes, all along? Siracusa was purely a holiday option, Sorrento was a honeymoon destination and Pistoiese was where I got married – the two stand out hooks from the pile. I applied a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) Rating to the five clubs based on the top/bottom three scores they had achieved over the previous four stages.
Siracusa dropped out due to a lack of direct flights from Leeds. Sorrento went as, even though there are great memories attached with the town – I couldn’t be sure I’d ever go back again to watch them play. Same with Pistoiese – possibly, as a fleeting tenth anniversary tour – but they are a provincial side with limited information for the casual spectator.
Five stages of reasoning had left me with just two clubs: Pro Vercelli and Pro Patria.
Would I go with a team that has a proud, successful history – even though they are really another club masquerading as that one time great? Or would it be a club whose name is immortalised in a Wilfred Owen poem, which was a Serie A side long after Pro Vercelli’s last Scudetto win? The decision came down to one simple element – Pro Patria’s kit looks too much like QPR’s – and given unwanted family interest in that club, I couldn’t bring myself to “support” them.
Proving, as I had suspected all along, that there is no logic to picking a football team.
So the journey began today, on August 17th, when Pro Vercelli beat Pergocrema 2-0 in the group stages of the Coppa Italia Lega Pro. I followed the game as part of a text service on a betting website. There was no curva to stand on, no hand gestures or locals to engage with – but it felt very much like the first step on a road towards my dream.
You can follow the dream, along with other thoughts about the language, the county and its people at Parla Calcio.