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What Groundhog Day can teach us about football fandom

No, I’m not referring to the idiotic diversionary news story involving a meteorologist badger that originated in the mid 19th century, but the single greatest American comedy of the last half of the 20th century (that’s right).In case you haven’t seen it (spoilers ahead blah blah blah), Groundhog Day is a 1993 film starring Bill Murray as weatherman Phil Connors, stuck in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania covering the Groundhog Day festivities. Snowed in, he stays another night in his quaint-but-annoying bed ‘n breakfast and wakes up to find it’s Groundhog Day. Again. Exactly as it happened the day before. And no matter what he does—drive off a cliff, jump off a building, electrocute himself—he always wakes up in bed on the morning of February 2nd, over and over. It’s only after he learns to spend his time improving himself—doing good works, reading classical literature, learning to play the piano, falling in love with Andie MacDowell—that he’s finally wake up to a snowy Feb. 3rd.While the film was initially released to critical acclaim and good box office, it didn’t cause much of a stir. Over the years however, like It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas the film slowly crept back into the popular imagination. In the intervening 19 years, critics and movie-lovers watched the film again (in some cases, over and over again) and realized its staying power and quality. Some believe it’s one of the finest film scripts ever written. Today, people regularly cite the film as Murray’s best, and “Groundhog Day” has entered the popular lexicon to mean “something repeating over and over again, always the same.”You can probably see where I’m going with this.For any fan of a middling Premier League club, or indeed football in general, the Groundhog Day metaphor proves durable. Each year, we wake up to a fresh league table, where the teams are ordered only by alphabet. We convince ourselves this year will be different, that there will significant surprises in store. We declare like football-shirted Scarlett O’Haras that tomorrow is another day.And each year, we watch as our clubs rack up the Ls and Ds on their way into a predictable mid-table finish. Then the summer transfer window comes and we convince ourselves the manager will find the missing pieces that will let us climb into the Champions League places. Tomorrow is after all another day! And we wake up with I Got You Babe playing on the radio and Villa drawing QPR 2-2.Eventually, like Phil Connors, we become cynical. We say we’ll give up football, and then find it impossible not to wake up on Saturday morning to watch all the fixtures. So we learn everything we can about this bleak footballing landscape. Opta Stats. Trade rumours. Pass completion percentages. Player ratings. We go through the motions with a Barney Ronay-like detached irony, not even sure if the joy we feel watching our club is real or hovering between a wry pair of inverted commas.This is where a lot of us are stuck right now. The film was originally supposed to begin with Bill Murray already years (decades, centuries?) into his repetitive hell. A lot of us are in this place right now. Football has become a job. We may even forget why we started watching in the first place.So what saves Phil Connors in the end? What allows him to wake up on February 3rd? He’s only saved from his curse after he falls in love with it. He decides to spend his eternity learning to play the piano, to ice sculpt, to memorize French poetry. Moreover, he goes to herculean lengths to help people even though he knows his efforts will go unrewarded when he wakes up the next day. It’s as if he’s practicing for a tomorrow that will never come.That’s the place I’m working toward with Aston Villa. I no longer believe there will be another 1982 European Cup, or another 1981 first division win for that matter. We’re stuck here (or perhaps in the Championship, heaven forbid) forever. So I’m learning to enjoy the little moments as they come. A fight back of sorts after going down two goals against QPR. A thrilling and deeply satisfying win away against Chelsea.As for football as a whole, I’m also coming to accept that the same teams will end up in the same places from league to league. Others have discovered (and long abandoned the top flight for) the fascinating world of lower league football. Still others switch domestic leagues for a time.They learn that while the world of football can seem as cramped and insular as Punxsatawney, there are more things in it than meets the Sky Sports News feed.And then we find that moment when we fall in love with football all over again. We wake up, and the landscape is transformed. Not everyone gets there, but we can least hold on to hope that tomorrow, things might be different.

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