Finding My Way With Only an Alarm Clock, a Coffee, and an Olivier Giroud Jersey
I've written this post in the past...I've said it a hundred times...I'm so tired and loathsome of sports. Less the actual sports, in fact, almost exclusively NOT the sports themselves, but rather with the people watching them, and talking about them, and finding purpose and meaning in them. I can't stand the teaming legions of idiots and bullies that wear their favorite club's jerseys and sweatshirts, and that endlessly regurgitate sports talk bombast like it was their own. It gets to me in big ways, and I tend to personalize such things, so I really need to find new worlds to play in. The tragedy is that I love sports...always have...I just don't love the stupidity that they inspire...the short-sightedness, the elitism, the false notion of value and/or purpose. They're fun. They can be wildly dramatic. They are a fantastic distraction from every day life...and there's the rub. They ARE indeed a big distraction. Pay too much attention and you're sure to attach too much meaning, sure to find your own identity too closely attached, absolutely certain to fall into the mire of arrogant, entitled sports fan. No thanks. I prefer my sports to make me feel good, not make everyone around me miserable.
Late last night I stumbled upon the next morning's television listings, and right there at 7:30am sat an intriguing possibility. Arsenal played Crystal Palace in English Premier League soccer and it had been awhile since I'd paid any attention to that league and game that no one here in North America seems to pay any attention to. Had I just stumbled into a solution to my most recent sports conundrum? Maybe not, but I at least thought I had. No one cares about English "football"...at least no one I know. Perfect.
I'd watched the Premiership before, casually...because it was on...because it seemed like a pretty big deal..the crowds seemed crazy, and the culture surrounding the matches was intense and foreign, and fairly intriguing. Twenty years ago I stumbled into Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch book and was almost immediately struck curious about all that soccer business. It was a fantastic read for any sports fan, and left me with a naturally disproportionate knowledge of the Arsenal Football Club, and almost no other. I became a quiet pseudo fan, with a reason to kind of, sort of pay attention..on occasion...if there was nothing else going on...and I forgot that I didn't really care all that much. Over the years I found intermittent spikes in my interest. I even went through a short, misguided stage of waking up early on Saturday, cooking big breakfasts and cracking pre-8am beers. It was a damning distraction, but short lived so both my liver and waistline were fine. My brief sojourns into English Premier League fandom were fun, and a distraction from cold winter weekend mornings, and the best part was I had NO ONE to talk to about them...no one, save the odd English or Scottish immigrant parent or grandparent of a friend...and all that did was intrigue me more. Still, it had none of the makings of a life long love affair, and faded almost as fast as my interest flared. Now I think I should have tried harder. Being an Arsenal fan from across an ocean, on a continent where no one really cared, was nearly the perfect solution to most of my sporting woes.
This morning felt good, and I found myself excited at the prospect of coffee and Arsene Wenger. When Crystal Palace, easily one of the worst teams in the entire Premiership, was running roughshod over a first place Arsenal side, I was engaged, and found myself caring...even despite the fact that I knew almost none of the Gunner players. Thierry Henry was long gone, van Persie gone...Fabregas, gone...Jens Lehmann, gone...Bergkamp, gone...The only player I knew on this team was Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey. I didn't know another soul. It was blissful. Sports fandom just for the sake of sports fandom...it was just what I needed.
I could watch alone. I could pour a cup of coffee, and grab something to eat. I could soak up names and learn the game better. I could revel in new and unknown stories from the commentators. In short, I could be a fan without all of the unsavory awfulness of our North American games. I decided over a bowl of Rice Krispies and a steaming hot cup of coffee that I would give soccer another try...that this time I would commit. I decided in the early morning chill and half light that I would never suffer another MLB, NL, NBA, NFL fan again as long as I lived. Oh, I'll still watch, and I'll still pay attention, but I will never again get dragged through someone else's filthy fanhood. Whenever the conversation turned to sports I'd start talking about the Arsenal - Tottenham match from the week previous and watch the exodus begin. Soon enough I'll be standing in kitchens alone, just a man and his beer, and I can't think of a better end result of a sports conversation on the planet.