Tragedy and catharsis for the fans: dealing with the emotional fallout of the footy season
Media Release, Monday 29 September 2008
Do spectator sports exist to provide suffering as well as joy in a world where emotions are increasingly repressed? And how do the disappointed Geelong footy fans deal with their loss and thwarted passions in the wake of Saturday’s grand final loss?
PhD student Matthew Klugman from the University of Melbourne’s School of Historical Studies has canvassed a wide range of opinions on the whys and wherefores of sports catharsis and tragedy, but suggests that some traditional ways of looking at the emotions around sport – and defeat in particular - are inadequate to explain the scale of what is perceived by many as a ‘tragedy’.
“Grand final and preliminary finals losses are often deeply traumatic,” he says. “Fans are shocked into silence, and feel devastated and sick, as though something has died. Later they return to the loss over and over again, telling the story as if it were a tragedy.”
Mr Klugman says some of the tell-tale signs of hubris – a common element of classical tragedy – were all too evident in the preparations for the big match on Saturday.
“Geelong was the definite favourite and perhaps some fans went into the game too confident – they forgot to consult the classics! On the other hand,” he says, “there are many people for whom a Hawks defeat on Saturday would have felt like a terrible tragedy, a failure to ‘Crawf’, the trauma of shattered dreams”.
Mr Klugman says that although many fanatical barrackers feel there is something too awful, too painful and unbearable in the disappointment of loss, traumatic finals losses exercise a terrible fascination for football followers. “They often want, in the months and years that follow, to annihilate the memory of the hideous defeat, but many seem unable to stop speaking about it” he says.
One explanation is that talking about defeat is a way of dealing with the trauma - that each retelling of the story is an attempt to lessen the pain, and address the sense of injustice.
Mr Klugman says that while Saturday’s match will not enter the annals of the great tragedies of AFL finals – like the 97 Bulldogs v Adelaide preliminary final, or the misery of the 2003 Collingwood thrashing by Brisbane - it is still worth remembering that many Geelong supporters will be suffering genuine trauma from the match.
“Although they won the previous year, this year they lost a shot at greatness,” he says.
“It seems somewhat excessive to claim that the outcome of a football game can generate such intense responses. After all, it’s a game, or in the words of one of the people I interviewed for my research ‘a bunch of boofheads kicking around a pigskin’. But these losses are deeply felt, and footy, like theatre, has become another site for people to explore the difficult mysteries of suffering and pleasure which humans since the days of Aristotle have sought out and manufactured for themselves.”
A paper by Matthew Klugman, "Each time I'm reminded of it, I feel as though I need therapy': Australian Football, Tragedies and the Question of Catharsis", will be published in the next edition of Traffic, the journal of the University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association.
Interview: Matthew Klugman, PhD graduate, University of Melbourne: 9919 5979 (W) 9326 1347 (H)