Belief. It seems like such a small word. Yet, it represents such a big thing. It's abstract, elusive, difficult to define, nearly impossible to harness. When you hear the word, something pops into your mind. Each individual is different. Some think of faith. They see a deity, or a representation of a deity. Some see hope. Others despair. The word might make you think of redemption, or of a political figure. Maybe freedom comes to mind, or for those who lived in London during the blitz, true British grit. A soldier might think of his brothers in arms, whether he charged the beaches of Normandy or the high desserts of Afghanistan.
Given these lofty aspirations and recollections, some might say it seems silly to apply such a concept to football. Wealthy young men with a carnival skill and a sense of entitlement chasing a little ball around while people the world over pay millions to watch. They would be wrong.
Why is football so important? Why do supporters care so much? Where does this passion come from? Again, one small word. Belief. Belief in a player, a team, a club, a town, a country, a concept. Something larger than an individual. Throughout our lives, we go through constant changes. We live in different places, we spend time with different people. Family members die, family members are born. Friends come and go, spouses come and go, and in all this madness and upheaval, we attempt to find some constant, some metaphysical place to plant our flag. For our little clan, that place is Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
In this space today I could have written a tactical analysis of the 4-5-1 formation, or made a case for Ivan Klasnic starting over David Ngog at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but Saturday's match against Manchester City will not determine our fate this season. When we look back on the 9-month period known as the 2011-2012 season, we might point to Owen Coyle's decision to play 4-4-2 against Wigan, or one of Mark Davies' incredible performance, or a yet to happen red card, as the reason we stayed up, or the reason we went down, but that is too simple.
At some point, it could be next week, it could be two months from now, that little ball will squirt free. An exhausted man who has legs of jelly, who has run 8 miles over 90 minutes, will charge it, 28,000 voices will unite as one, 10 other men will charge forward with him, and a goal that has no right to be scored will be scored. Those ten men will embrace, the owners of those 28,000 voices will embrace, thousands more around the world will leap from their seats, and all will experience a joyful fit of ecstasy that will link their disparate lives together for just a moment. At that moment, all the ups and downs and ins and outs of life will be forgotten, and all of those people will be joined by one thing; Belief. Belief in Bolton Wanderers football club.