Why you have to be just a little insane to be a loyal rugby fan

You get the fair-weather fans, who cheer on their team as long as their team is on a winning streak. Then you get the true fans, who stay true no matter how bitter or prolonged the agony of defeat may be. Here’s what it feels like to be one of the latter.


By Ebrahim Moolla

I often feel like we sports fans have the short end of the vuvuzela. We are generally completely misunderstood by those who don’t take to putting their lot in with the Stormers, Cobras and Ajax Cape Towns of this world.

They simply can’t grasp why an otherwise well adjusted grown man would burst into tears, claw at the walls and mope for weeks over a humiliating derby loss or that his mood is for all eternity linked to the performance of his chosen object of affection.

Some will scoff at the thought of investing such energy into 15 men with obscenely large pectorals chasing an oval ball around a patch of grass, and will look at you like you’ve just rambled on for an hour about how deftly you’re able to gut a mackerel.

“It isn’t you who’s lost”, they’ll say, or resort to that hoary old chestnut: “It’s just a game” in futile attempts to appease you when you’ve suffered a defeat.

They don’t appreciate the tremendous emotional commitment that goes into supporting a team with everything you’ve got. It should come as no surprise that the word “fan” comes from the Latin fanaticus, meaning “insanely but divinely inspired”. I like to think of it as a calling, a burden not merely shouldered, but hoisted proudly aloft for all to admire.

Most of us become serious fans when we are children, as soon as we are capable of forming lasting emotional bonds first with teams and then with individual players. The team quickly becomes “us” and like old chums, we grow together over the years, developing quirks and experiencing all the excitement, drama and heartbreak of sport, that great microcosm of life.

There may times when the fan hurls his jersey into the neighbour’s bougainvilleas in disgust and vows never to mention the name of his team again, but, as many will attest, this is a bond that is not easily broken. You can’t remove yourself from the equation without losing a part of yourself.

Even when your team is on the mother of all losing streaks, you can’t simply walk away from the carnage. It is an enduring relationship that allows us to make sense of the world, and deal better with the turbulence of life.

There is a certain amount of snobbishness that comes with being a loyal fan of an underperforming side. You will wear your losses like Hindenburg scars, along with the smug half-grin of a martyr, secretly delighting in the gallows humour you share with your peers. Looking down your nose at those you consider lesser or “plastic” fans is obligatory, as is looking wistfully off into the distance, recalling the “glory days” (note that this may or may not be before you were born).

The attachment is not just psychological. It has been biologically proven that when a team wins, the testosterone levels of their fans shoot up by 50%, which goes some way towards explaining why All Blacks fans are some of the hairiest specimens on Earth. Surprisingly, no research has been undertaken on what effect a team losing for five years straight has on the hormonal balance. Sigh.

A great man – I think it may have been Kobus Wiese – once wrote: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

There is something to be said for stoically soldiering on in the hope that things will take a turn for the better and waves of complete and utter euphoria will break the dam wall. Then we’ll strip off and run naked down the street, singing We Are The Champions at the top of our voices.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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