The Twelfth Player

23 Jun 2023

Jakob Jung loves football. But over the years, the Comparative European History student's relationship with the sport has become quite complicated. For Vox, he is going on the lookout to replace the football-shaped hole in his heart. This week, he talks about his football-watching relapse after a sports injury – and what he still loves about the game.

At the beginning of this month, I fractured my finger playing sports. One day and an x-ray later, I realised that this meant I would have to face every athlete’s worst nightmare (dramatically speaking): a couple of weeks’ pause.

This insight left me quite bummed out. Luckily for me, the Netherlands hosted the Nation’s League finals last weekend, which meant that I could see Oranje for the first time live in the stadium. And just like that, a football-watching relapse of all things helped me get through my frustration.

So I found myself in Enschede’s Volkspark on a Sunday morning, in the middle of a public fan festival with food trucks and a stage with an overly enthusiastic DJ. If not for the few fans dressed in orange and some football mini-games, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that this was about football at all.

The festival before the game felt more like an overly commercialised town fair. Which, I think, is a good representation of my feelings towards football in general: unnecessarily bloated and out of proportion – just like the festival. Which does not mean that I don’t enjoy part of the spectacle.

‘You get drawn into the game and become the twelfth player on the pitch’

Once my friends and I had made our way to the stadium and inserted ourselves into the sea of orange, the excitement for the match increases with every new fan entering the stadium. And it eventually transformed into pure ecstasy as soon as the referee started the game.

It’s crazy how football unites people so easily. Quickly, my two friends and I (all Germans, notably) were drawn into the ‘Holland, Holland, Holland’ chants of the Dutch fans. We stood up whenever there was a chance for the Dutchmen and shouted whenever we felt like some decision could have gone a different way. I quickly entered into conversations explicating my football expertise in broken Dutch. And it is precisely this non-commercial and joyful side of football that I still love so much.

Even as a non-active participant, you get drawn into the game and become the twelfth player on the pitch. We saw five goals and an overall good game, which would have brought joy to any football connoisseur. I still had a great sports experience – despite my own sports injury. And just like the Dutch team, I can now enjoy my break and return fitter and better after the summer.

Read Jakob Jung's blogs here

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