About 10 years ago I entered a lower-division ground with a friend, and I was alarmed to see a ratty faced man I Burberry, jump to his feet, point at us and bellow in a voice of a man 4 times his size “oh Christ. Here comes bloody Jonah.”
My friend, a supporter of the home team, acknowledged the bellowing man with a wave and a forced smile. “He’s a Jonah, he is. We’re fucked,” the man roared at a volume that rattled crockery and set off car alarms several streets away. All around him supporters looked at him accusingly. There was much muttering. Parents covered children’s eyes. If it had be a hammer horror I feel sure we’d have been chased from the terracing by a baying mob wielding flaming torches.
As it was we took shelter amount a group of the sort of elderly men whose lifetime of heavy toil has left them with the conviction that every omen is a bitter one, and industrial deafness. Safe among the scent of damp gabardine my friend exhaled loudly “thing is I used to think it was a bit of a joke with him, but now he won’t let up, its like he believes it.” I did reasure him that I had been here with him when you had won. “I know” my friend said, “but the thing is that when we win or draw, I never see him and he never sees me.”
He shrugged, took a bag of wine gums out of his pocket and offered me one. “If I was superstitious I’d think seeing that idiot was a premonition of defeat.” He looked at my selection. “Don’t eat the yellow ones until half time,” he said.
You should put a bet on the oppo to win, when you see him, I suggested. I don’t want to bet against my own team though. I said no not for financial gain, but it might counteract the effect of seeing him. You know, reverse the karma or something. Do you believe that? Of course I don’t, I said. That would be totally irrational. But you can just leave things to chance, can you?
The momory of this came back to me just over a month ago, when Carlisle’s unbeaten run came to an end. Where I wish the Cumbrian’s nothing more than success, I received the news with a sense of relief.
As you know I go to Brunton Park about 6/7 times a season and I was due to go the week after. The longer the undeafeted record went on the larger the game became. Everyone knows that a losing run plays on a fans mind, but tension created by an unbeaten streak can be just as taxing on the nerves. Keeping the run going becomes paramount, the fear of defeat magnified. A feeling grows that should the run end everything will fall apart and cataclysm ensue. Logic takes flight. You find yourself believing a string of six draws is somehow more beneficial for your team than a run of 3 wins and 2 defeats. Even though basic maths tells you otherwise.
During an unbeaten run, the fan who has been to every match may come to fear missing a match, and the disaster that he or she my inflict on the team, in fact an inverse Jonah. If you are a part timer like me, then the pressure comes in the opporsite direction. Because no matter how much a fan is rational in everyday life, when it comes to football everyone nurses a belief that their actions are influencing events on the field. Nobody wants to feel responsible for ending the run. Nobody wants to be Jonah.
In the pub before the Carlisle game my friend Mike looked at the menu and speculated that he might one day, at a point in the season when all things had been decided , try the Cumberland sausage. But whatever you feel like eating, any of us, is irrelevant. My friend Mike pointed out that the lucky steak pie and chips, that he gets before each game, you could question how lucky it actually is, considering when he started eating it Carlisle were flirting with the league 1 playoffs and now they are in league 2. He did go on to say, but frankly only a complete idiot would blame the steak pie and chips for the appointment of Graham Kavanagh as manager.