I remember sitting in my living room watching Wasps beat Bristol back in the Premiership semi-final, feeling a mixture of pride in the performance but genuine disappointment I was watching it on the television rather than being there in person. I am sure this was not a unique feeling; it was an exhilarating but also frustrating time for many supporters, with Wasps absolutely on fire and not even their closest family members were able to witness it in person.
Fast forward to Friday 20th May 2022 and Wasps lose at home to Sale. There is no point dressing it up, it was a disappointing game to watch for a whole host of reasons. Disjointed, scrappy, it was a completely joyless affair, made even worse by a serious injury to Elliott Stooke. Not a great occasion for the final home game of the season, and not a great spectacle for the supporters who were there.
I want to write about that concept though, supporting. What does that mean? What does it mean to be a supporter, to be a fan? If you look online there’s quite a lot of definitions knocking around and having studied a bit about football hooliganism when I was at university, there’s lots of incredibly interesting research into why people take ‘supporting’ to extremes. I quite like this description of the term supporter, ‘an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator’. Why I like this definition is for the use of the words enthusiastic, devotee and spectator.
Let’s talk about enthusiasm, because that seemed in short supply after the last match. Reflecting on the season, it has been a bit of an odd one to be honest. The crippling injury list had a clear impact on results before Christmas, and when key players did start to return it seems reasonable to suggest that it took a little longer than expected for things to gel. The cup run was exciting, and Lyon away was undoubtedly a missed opportunity. I’m curious about how enthusiastic people are feeling about next season. I’m genuinely looking forward to it, the pack is looking in excellent shape and if Wasps recruit who and where I think they will in the backline, I think we could do much better than people are currently expecting. I honestly expect Wasps to be pushing up the table and sneaking into the play offs. Why not?
Devotee is an intriguing one. Am I devoted to Wasps? I am devoted to my family above anything else, there’s other things and people I care deeply about, and I include Wasps in that, but I would not say I am devoted to them. But I know people who genuinely are. People who live for the matches, live for the adrenalin of a victory, would do anything for the club. Ideally these people are always playing for Wasps, but you actually see far more of them in the stands regardless of form and performances. I admire and respect these people.
A few words then on being a spectator. You often hear people saying (normally those with no interest in sport) that people shouldn’t get so worked up at matches because they cannot influence the outcome. The more I think about that, the more I realise that is absolute nonsense. I follow Liverpool FC (far less closely than I used to) and if you think that their fans don’t have an influence on the outcome of games when the match is at Anfield, you are mistaken. Compare their results behind closed doors to when fans were allowed in. This is an area where I do hope there are some improvements next season from a Wasps perspective. There were some really good atmospheres this season (Leicester and London Irish spring to mind instantly) but there were also some absolute shockers (Gloucester and Sale) where it felt incredibly flat.
The question I have then is what can we do, collectively, to improve for next season? We expect players to get better, why shouldn’t we? Whether we are devoted to the club or not, most people who are reading this will want the club to do well, and you can all have an influence. Whether that’s identifying a singing section in the ground to getting there early to meet the players, there are things you can do, in a positive way, to help the club. As the cost of living continues to cause hardship, I’m very conscious that it’s difficult for people to get to as many games as they would like. I’m also conscious though that when we couldn’t go, because of restrictions, there’s many of us who would have jumped at the chance to get back to the stadium and see some live action. Remember that feeling next time you’re thinking of not going because of enthusiasm, rather than finances.
The more we can do as supporters to make a positive difference off the pitch, the more victories we will enjoy together. Let’s look in the mirror and think about how we can ‘support’ the club and thank you to all that do.