If you have ever tried to explain to a sporting unbeliever the joy of supporting your favorite team, you will know how irrational it can sound.
As sports fans we heard stories of the lengths a fan will go to in order to see his team live in a big game. But how far will a fan go to avoid seeing his team in a big game?
I began to think about this after a conversation with my friend David.
David is a Welshman exiled in Canada, and a devoted Cardiff City fan—he has been for twenty years, ever since his father took him as a child. So for him, Sunday’s result against Barnsley, which saw his team go through to their first FA Cup Final since 1927, was the reward for all the years of dedicated support in the Welsh wind and snow since the early nineties.
Not that David's dedication to Cardiff is a one-way thing: the Cardiff teams of the mid-nineties were as committed to getting beaten week in and week out as David was to seeing them getting beaten week in and week out.
In their devotion to losing they showed a brand of determination that can only be admired, all while playing a style of football that makes today’s Cardiff team look like Brazil circa 1970.
And yet, all the time, David stayed loyal the Bluebirds; even as his friends grew tired of constant defeat, and began to support more glamorous Premier League teams, David stayed true to Cardiff.
When David phoned me from Canada after Cardiff’s semi-final win, he told me that he would be flying back to the UK next month. Obviously, I assumed this would be a trip back to see his beloved hometown club in the FA Cup Final.
"You must be joking," he said. "I want us to win—I need to be in Canada."
And then I remembered Dave’s particular sporting superstition:
He is Cardiff’s bad luck charm.
Before university in April 2003, David first left to travel around Canada for a few months, his team was in a freefall; having been around the playoff positions since Christmas, they dropped twelve points in five games and looked set to finish mid-table.
He gave his season ticket to a friend and boarded his plane to Canada.
Almost as soon as he touched down, the team’s fortunes changed.
From the other side of the pond, David watched as they claimed two wins and a draw to secure a playoff position; a further victory over two legs against Bristol City sent them through to the Division Two playoff final.
Cardiff had a chance to return to Division One after eighteen years.
In a playoff final, the hopes and dreams of an entire season are distilled into a single match.
The 46 league games up to that point are gambled on one game of 90 minutes, with promotion for the winner, and nothing to the loser. Some fans love them, some fans hate them; but for guaranteed drama, nothing can match them.
In 2003, the final pitched QPR against Cardiff; perhaps too close to call, were it not for the fact that the traditional home of the football league playoff finals, Wembley, was being rebuilt.
The finals had been moved to the gleaming new Millennium stadium: Cardiff.
More than 60,000 fans, the vast majority of them fanatical Welshmen, bit their fingers to the bone as they watched a single goal, six minutes from the end of extra-time, secure victory for Cardiff City in their own backyard. The city went crazy celebrating the club’s return to Division One for the first time since the year before David was born.
After sitting through nearly fifteen years of defeats and disappointments, David watched from the other side of the world as his team secured promotion without him.
He was at university in the UK for the next two years—during which Cardiff spent two mediocre seasons treading water in mid-table—but then was given the chance to spend a further year in Canada as part of his studies.
Suddenly Cardiff found their spark; they appointed a new manager, Dave Jones and made a late push for the play-offs with some slick attacking football.
When my friend saw this he booked his airplane tickets back: he wasn’t about to miss out twice.
Cardiff had a chance of glorious promotion to the Premier League for the first time in his club’s history.
Almost as soon as he touched down in the UK, Cardiff lost.
And lost again.
A woeful two points from a possible 21 saw them drop like a stone out of the playoff places and eventually finish in eleventh.
"Winning the FA Cup semi-final proves it," Dave said to me this weekend. "I’m bad luck. When I am out the country, Cardiff wins; when I am in the UK, we lose."
Sure enough, while David finished his studies last year, Cardiff was distinctly average; thirteenth place was the reward for another patchy season.
It was clear: if he ever wanted to see his boyhood club taste glory, there was only one thing that Dave could do as a responsible fan.
He booked his tickets for Canada.
He’s been there since last July, and now faces the agonizing choice that no fan wants to face. He is convinced he brings his team bad luck; meaning that when they play the biggest match of their history on May 17, he cannot trust himself to be there.
So should he fly back to see the club he loves in an FA Cup Final, a chance he may never get again in his lifetime, knowing he will blame himself forever if they lose?
Or should he stay away, hoping his superstitious support from 3000 miles away will make the difference, and bring the FA Cup back to Cardiff?
What matters more as a fan: being there at the game for the experience (even if you may lose), or staying away and making sure your team wins?
Does anyone else have any other stories of sporting superstitions?
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