Being a football fan is tough. I repeat, being a ‘football’ fan is tough. You have rabid club fandoms. And then you have people like me who like the game with a strong bent for one club (In my case, it is Liverpool), the loyalty towards which was forged by a combination of circumstance and happenstance.

A majority of rabid fandoms of any club live and die, week in and week out, as their team’s form ebbs and flows, at lightning speed on the pitch for 90 minutes, and then at the speed of light on media, social or otherwise, as the performance is spliced into infinite bits and analysed ad infinitum, a term which here means ’till the next game comes along’. I am not a huge fan of that. But it does serve an important purpose. In its cacophony it brings to the noisy table issues that may need looking at, strategies that may have to be tweaked and philosophies that need to be reconsidered.

For me, and I am sure a lot of you feel it too, it’s always a constant tension between whether I should look at things from a microscopic viewpoint of the here and now (much like cable news analyses news or Wall St analyses company earnings) or take a more ‘broad sweep of history’ view limited to analysing seasons or at least significant stretches of those seasons in one chunk.

The trouble is, look too closely and you miss the big picture – you read too much into that one substitution or the last two results – and take too wide a view and you may miss vital turning points – dismissing a poor run of form as just bad luck which turns out to be a season destroying fundamental slump. Jamie Carragher raised a similar point about Liverpool this week saying that their current run of form (or the utter lack of it) was not just down to bad luck and injuries but something else was missing from the team – leadership on the pitch, mental fortitude.

I am not writing this to analyse Liverpool’s problems. There are people way more invested and qualified to do so. This post is to propose a ‘smell test’ for how to figure out whether the team you care about is going through just a bad patch or something bigger is at play. You as a fan may not be the one effecting changes even if you identify what the underlying theme and cause is, but at least you can probably sleep better at night. So let me help you out with a Cosmopolitan style quiz. Here are three points I usually consider (please remember, these are just personal rules of thumb):

1. Fight, club?
A string of bad performances can statistically happen to anyone really. The probabilities aren’t as low as you might imagine.

But when it does happen do you find yourself saying after almost every game –
A. I wish they showed more fight?
B. It’s not the defeat but the manner of it?
C. Bah. We had rotten luck again this game.

2. Manager Speak
Does the man in charge of the team –

A. Seem dodgy and/or irritated at pressers after the game?
B. fill it with anodynes and platitudes like ‘C’ above?
C. Speak straight and sharp criticising without sugar coating or dilution?

3. Proof Of History
Does your team’s performance deviate significantly from qualities that made you a fan of theirs in the first place?

A. Can’t see a single of those qualities
B. About half of them are missing
C. Nope. The team looks and plays exactly like the one I adore.

Give yourself 1 point for every ‘A’, 0.5 for every ‘B’ and a 0 for every ‘C’.

2 and above: The here and now needs attention. The team is going through a semi fundamental crisis. Somebody bring out the drawing board.

1-1.5: 50/50 case, but more likely than not it is a slump. If the symptoms persist, take the quiz again next week.

0.5 and less: Keep the broad sweep, wider view in mind. Seasons are not won or lost over a couple of games and bad performances happen. No need to foam at the mouth and blow it out of proportion.

So, how is your team doing by this barometer?


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