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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Why do we love football - and Arsenal - so much?

Football has an estimated 3.5 billion fans worldwide. It's the most popular sport on Earth. Literally billions of people keep going back again and again, to watch their team win or lose. Women's football may make up a small proportion of that, but that doesn't make that fanbase any less passionate. But why? What is it about this sport, and Arsenal in particular, that pulls us in?

Football creates connections.

In women's football, like seems to call to like. It tends to be an inclusive atmosphere, and it's easy to get on with people when you know that they share the same values. I've made a bunch of friends that I'm very close with after only knowing them for a few months.

But it's more than that. When you put on a football shirt or scarf, you're wearing a uniform. It's a visual representation of that connection that you have with someone else.

Most human beings have a natural need to belong. Once you've established that connection, research shows that it becomes much easier to cope with losses in sport, and you have a higher sense of self esteem.

Debating around football, something that you're passionate about, can also lead to more confidence in social situations. Football can be a space to allow people to grow.

Those connections and the crowd amplify emotions.

Whether you're getting angry at the linesperson, or jumping up and down screaming about a goal, we keep going back for more highs and lows.

Have you ever been to a live comedy show and found yourself laughing much harder than you would if you were sat on your sofa, alone? This isn't a conscious thing - it's just human nature. You want to show you fit in. You want to show that you're intelligent enough to recognise that it's funny, so you laugh.

Football is just the same. If you're surrounded by people experiencing heightened emotions, it would be very difficult to sit there passively and ignore that. You reflect that energy around you, and it's hard to forget that passion when you walk away.

Football is also a space where you can feel free. You can escape from reality for a few short hours.

You can leave your 9-5 job, come together with a big group of friends for a full day of socialising, and simply forget about reality for a while. Where else is it acceptable to scream and shout for two hours on a Sunday?

It's incredibly freeing, even for an introvert like me. I've written before about how, previously, I would have felt socially anxious in these situations, big crowds, being loud in front of *gasp* other people.

Yet singing with the Red and White AWFC, doing something positive for the team, has meant I can now join in, free of self doubt.

Take Sunday's game, for example, an initially frustrating match on 2 April 2023 versus Manchester City.

The squad can play so well, and they didn't appear to be hitting those same levels that we know they can achieve, in the first half. Emotions were running high in the stands - and the referee chose to make a series of questionable calls.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I want Arsenal to win. If we were to be on the receiving end of some preferential treatment, I wouldn't complain. However, there was some angry shouting at the referee about the decisions made.

Then, the girls turned it around. Frida Leonhardsen Maanum equalised, Katie McCabe scored an absolute banger to bring it home. The North Bank was rocking, we were all screaming - and no one was worrying about work the next day.

That leads to the most obvious point - it feels good to win.

If you win, you're apparently likely to feel "dominant". In the men's game, this may sometimes lead to seemingly aggressive behaviour. In the women's game, I've personally not witnessed that. For me, this simply translates to a sense of confidence.

“If they’re doing well, it reflects on us, in terms of bragging rights, status, prestige and identity,’’ says Joe Weis, a sociology professor at the University of Washington.

You can walk with your head held high, because your team won. And, if not - well, you can always blame the referee.

Football becomes entangled with your identity.

The longer you support a team, the more it feeds into who you are. If your social group likes football, it can be a key part of what you talk about, even if you're doing something non-football related.

The values of the club and the players play a huge part in creating that identity too. All the current Arsenal WFC team members appear fully worthy of our support, as individuals as well as players.

I know that I feel more passionate about this team from hearing how vocal they are off the pitch about a variety of social issues, for example. It makes me proud to support them. It makes me proud to be associated with the club.

Some people moan about Arsenal, about the manager, about how they played. Yet I've not met anyone yet that's chosen to switch allegiances.

It works the other way too - you judge people based on who they support.

Rivalries build up and you talk about how awful it would be to be a Spurs fan. You know nothing about these people other than that they like another football team. That single piece of knowledge is sufficient for us to cast judgement.

Rivalries help you build passion for the game, help you engage with it and care more and more. Football is about wanting your team to win. It wouldn't be sport without that competitiveness.

Regardless of how people view rivalries, they'll help the women's game grow in sustainable popularity, as the fans get more invested in their teams - and wanting them to beat others.

The final point I want to make is about optimism, anticipation, and hope.

Yes, it feels awful to lose. But, by the time the next game comes around, you can rebuild a sense of hope. You can remember how good it feels to win, and look forward to feeling that again.

Especially with Arsenal, you can have faith in the team. Even when they look down and out, they can produce magic. And that sense of anticipation is a wonderful thing. It gives you something to look forward to week in, week out.

I'm in the fortunate position of writing this at the moment that Arsenal appears to be on the ascendency once again.

After a series of bad luck with injuries throughout this season, the girls have found their flow. They keep demonstrating incredible grit and determination to win.

I'm therefore writing this from a positive perspective. Regardless, I'm Arsenal till I die, as the song goes. That means supporting the team unconditionally.

Maybe I'll gripe a bit if they play poorly. But I'll be there to back them through thick and thin. I'll look forward to the next time we get to all come together, the Arsenal family, to escape reality and shout and cheer our way through 90 minutes of football.

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