23 January 2011

The Anxiety of the Home Crowd

The score was 15-19 when I arrived at the rickety old Br. Henry Virgil Gymnasium this afternoon. This was the Area Meet finals in Boys’ Volleyball between our team and our neighbors in blue. Our boys had little luck against the neighbors last season; and in fact had already lost a championship match earlier this season in a tournament in Manila.

The rickety old gym was, therefore, jam-packed. The smell of blood was simply irresistible to the predators who wanted an old-fashioned vendetta. Payback time!

I initially tried the western entrance, but met a colleague who said he could see the ball floating in the air but nothing else. I took a look at the entrance and immediately understood what he meant. I could see nothing but a sea of heads.

I went off instead to return to my office, but changed my mind as I approached the HASYENDA. The noise coming from the gym was just too much to resist.

There are, indeed, certain advantages to being taller than the average Filipino. The eastern entrance was just as crowded, but standing behind the students who were watching the game from the corner, I found I had a reasonably good view of the proceedings.

At 15-19 of the third and deciding set, the home crowd was decidedly fidgety. A couple of smashes took the score to 17-19, and suddenly the cries of Rektikano, L-A-S-A-LL-E and D-L-S…L were echoing around the cramped confines of the gym.

The neighbors were rattled; and while they managed to score one more point, the momentum had definitely swung to the home team, spurred on as it was by the suddenly animated gallery. In fact, the neighbors did not quite know what hit them as the men in green swept to a 23-20 advantage. Just two more points and it was goodbye to the men in blue.

Now, this was the point when the crowd, earlier exuberant, suddenly hushed up in either anticipation or just plain anxiety. It’s the all too familiar tension of the end-game.

Back when the Batangas Blades used to play in the SENTRUM, the exuberance of the crowd carried the fledgling semi-pro basketball team to a series of exhilarating early-season victories. Then, a run of end-game losses made the home crowd anxious whenever the last quarter approached.

I am no expert in Sociology, but I am sure that this anxiety of the crowd is communicated almost psychically to the team, who in turn succumbs to the pressure of expectations. From a promising first season, it came to the point where the Blades almost did not want to play at home!

At Anfield, football cathedral that is home to Liverpool FC, every game starts with the crowd in full voice. Time was when a few misplaced passes and the crowd would start to hush up. Cue more misplaced passes, until the home team ultimately stopped believing in itself.

Back to the game at the Br. Henry Gym this afternoon, from being stuck at 20 points, the neighbors suddenly found belief and rallied to tie at 23-all. At 24-25, the visitors were holding up their pointer fingers, signaling just one more point to wrap up the match.

Either Mother Luck thought the neighbors were way to cocky for their own good and blessed our team with a burst of luck; or our boys had more spunk than they had ever shown since last season. Whatever it was, our team managed to draw level at 25-all and suddenly, the men in blue were the ones with anxiety written all over their faces.

There was also the little matter of the home crowd suddenly rediscovering its voice, sweeping the home team to a much-anticipated victory and a burst of cathartic celebration.

[This story was first published on Facebook on 2 October 2008. Photos from the DLSL Web Site.]





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