There's always an awkward pause when I tell people my heart belongs to Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
Most of the time, I'm faced with people who pretend they know what I'm talking about, confusion clear in their eyes as they talk nonsense about how well the game went (Er, mate? You do know we lost, right?). But every once in awhile, I come across the ones who inexplicably pay attention to the wonderful miracle that is English football. They are the ones to watch out for; they'll look at you with this sad smirk, inform you that your team is "utter rubbish," and drone on and on about how they can't possibly understand why you would support the Wanderers.
The truth is, I can't understand why I do either. Yet, there's something about the sight of those boys on the pitch in those pristine white uniforms, no matter how fuzzy the ESPN feed is, that gives me this overwhelming sense of mind-numbing happiness and of coming home.
There's been years (hello, 2011-2012) where being a Bolton fan has been the bane of my existence. But despite every heartbreaking loss, there I was the next week, traipsing around campus in my K. Davies shirt, hoping that this would be our week. It's not always optimistic thoughts and high fives, smiles and wins. There were days, maybe even weeks, when I was convinced we were cursed, that nothing good would happen. The moment I began to look up, I'd be pummeled lower by some horrible defeat. But isn't that the whole definition of supporting Bolton? We love them, too much for our own good sometimes, and we'll love them through the fumbled passes and botched goal attempts. It's like your true love cheating on you and breaking your heart over and over again, only to have you crawl right back, still completely in love.
But how can you ever say no to the possibilities?
I've always thought that anyone can love those big name teams, but loving Bolton week in and week out when they're deemed "embarrassingly tragic" is a feat only the fans with the biggest hearts can accomplish. That's what the Wanderers have done for me; given me this hope and this love that is pretty unbreakable. And maybe, that's where we differ from other fans. To me, emotion is as much a part of the game as the players and fans are. There are days where I'll tear my jersey off in anger before drowning in inconsolable sadness (as I know many do) but there are days that I fall asleep wearing it because I'm so happy I'm knackered. It's the pride that keeps me going, the knowledge that in this game, anything could go our way in a split second. And who has more pride than the White Army?
Some would say that there's no room for emotions in this game, that I have to put my feelings aside and want what's best for the club. But in some ways (or all of them, even) what's best for the club is what my emotions want. We invest so much time and energy into this club, why would any of us ever want anything less than the best? Just like the players go out there and give it their all on the pitch week in and week out, there's thousands of people in the stands playing their part. Whether we admit it or not, some portion of our happiness and livelihood are forever connected to this club.
And maybe, just maybe, that's the brilliance of the game. It's not that perfectly executed bicycle kick as much as it is the deafening roar of the crowd as it goes in; not the player on his game but the child at his or her first match cheering loudly. It's not about the facts or the figures; it's about the emotion. The Wanderers aren't just some club owned by some man I've never met and I've always been more than confident I'm not the only one to think that.
When I started asking people I knew what the Wanderers meant to them, I got answers varying from a word to a whole page, but every single one of them perfectly encapsulated what Bolton Wanderers mean to the fans. They're Matty's everything, Chris's identity, Tommy's reluctant pain. They represent the connection Michael made with his dad all those afternoons at Old Trafford. Most of the time, they're even the deciding factor on whether John's weekend is perfect or miserable. For Mark, they're the purest form of emotion, an escape from the everyday where anything is possible until that final whistle blows. Loving the Wanderers is about the way Adam and Michael know that this addiction will probably be the death of them, but refuse to give it up because of the promise of one moment leading to pure euphoria. When someone says "Bolton Wanderers" they don't just mean a club or a kit, they mean the warm welcoming that Danny and Matty get after traveling miles to every game. It's all of us, together, cheering and moaning but never swapping our colors; the friends you made on Saturday afternoons who are there for you any day of the week.
To put it simply, it's life.
So keep the big name players and their bigger egos, the countless championship trophies and televised matches in front of numerous fans. I've got something that's worth more than any of that and I wouldn't trade it for all the clean sheets in the world.