I have spent the past month pretending to dribble a soccer ball while walking to and from work to the subway. I’ve watched so many videos of Lionel Messi highlights, that I think I might know how to speak Spanish. I read article after article and listened to hours upon hours of sports analysis in the dumb hope that somehow that would give me some oracle-like foresight to figure or influence the outcome of the World Cup. The storybook ending I wanted didn’t happen, my team lost, my hero didn’t get his prize. I am horribly depressed over it. This would have seemed like an impossible reaction a month ago. The look on Messi’s face, when his free kick went wide and he recognized that it was over, it made my heart sink.
That’s the wonderful and ridiculous thing about sport, isn’t it? The British have this expression when they are bitterly disappointed, they talk about being “gutted” which is really the perfect illustration of the feeling of loss you get when your team, your team loses. It’s as if your fiercest enemy in the world has taken a jagged knife, sliced you from navel to nose, all your insides have fallen out in a steaming, beating, bloody mess all across your feet before the rest of your hollowed out body crumples into a limp heap atop it. It’s probably going to take at least a week for me to pull myself back up, piece it all back together and recover.
I’ve played sports for as long as I can remember. My parents kept us involved to keep us out of trouble since we lived in a questionable neighborhood. I know how thrilling competition like that can be, that a team can become your family, how hitting that clutch shot/goal/homerun can make you feel like anything is possible. I also know the flip side of that, how crushing it can be when you choke or there is a missed opportunity to score or your team just couldn’t get it together for some reason, you lose and you feel like this is a pronouncement on your place in the universe. I never thought I could feel those things just by being a spectator. Sport is so overwrought with emotion and drama. The business of sport knows this and takes a lot of our money exploiting it. I definitely get caught up in those Adidas and Gatorade commercials that turn athletes into predatory animals, games into battles, trophies into moments of destiny. At the very heart of it I think following a team/player allows us to recapture a little bit of the youthful hope that we might have lost along the way. Watching athletes do things that not only make the impossible seem possible but make it look easy, makes me want to break out in ebullient shouts or go out and recreate historic feats of athleticism. You forget your cares just for a while and bask in the glow of a thing doing what it was meant to be doing in a perfect moment in time. Consider this once social sports fan a converted soccer fan, you’ll see me in my Barca jersey (obviously Messi’s #10) in front of the tv this La Liga season.
P.S. One of the additional, wonderful discoveries this past month are the Men In Blazers who are two British guys who care passionately about soccer, especially about soccer becoming popular in the U.S. specifically, and offer hilarious commentary on games. They were an absolute delight.
P.S.S. Don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a soccer blog.