Monday, April 7, 2008

The Loneliness of the Long-Winded Football Fan

I have gone out on many occasions and found myself invariably next to someone who I know knows as much, cares as much, and breathes as much football as me. Yet for the sake of etiquette, the interests of the group, and my image as a person with opinions that are, very once in awhile, worth listening to, I am obliged not to discuss the details of last week's Serie A developments, Totti's forthcoming absence again from this weeks Champions League fixtures, or the utter disgrace that is Toronto FC. This is the life of a lone football fan.

There is a certain social stigma associated with watching soccer in North America. The sport tends to attract either gangly nerds or those sort of pretend jocks that love to talk up last week's cricket scores using lots of swears while they get drunk off one pint of Fosters. Even Toronto FC's 'hardcore' section has a certain lameness that can't be pinpointed -- a weird mixture of sport freak and toy train collector that really has no other societal equivalent. It's something that, once witnessed by a close friend or associate, can wreck years of work crafting the image of a person who is not obsessed with the athleticism of highly-paid European men.

I remember the dark mornings in Montreal when I was forced by limited means to catch some meaningless fixture on a Saturday morning at that shit-stain of a bar known as 'Champs,' which just about perfectly describes both the owners and clientèle. Boys who didn't look much more than 18 draped in tattered Arsenal shirts discussing Dennis Bergkamp shots-on-goal stats with ex-pat Londoners three times their age--this was not where you wanted to take your girlfriend. And yet there I dragged her, mostly to dull the loser-sheen down a few notches while I took in Manchester United v. Norwich. Of course it didn't work. She would look at me cock-eyed as some ailing pipsqueak squawked out 'One Nil to the Arsenal' in his West Montreal accent and remind me 'There are nicer things to be doing on a Saturday morning.' 'Next week, my dear, next week' came the reply. But for the football obsessed, next week never comes.

And don't think you can prove that you're not like the rest of those 'god damned nerds.' Because that was you and not someone else checking the internet to see who is likely to get promoted to Ligue Un this year, or trying to figure out how much it would cost to fly to England to catch Villa at home to Birmingham City and ALMOST transferring the necessary funds from your savings account to your checking account to make the purchase before you realized you're broke. This is not the sort of dirty laundry you want exposed to a public that will never get it no matter how much you plead that it's just, you know, more than a game, it is, believe me IT IS! I wouldn't get it either. Twenty-two men kicking a ball around encapsulating the nameless existential struggle faced by every honest man with their face toward the abyss; it just doesn't resonate in a city where many view sports on par with gun collecting or subscribing to Wii Magazine.

Supposedly the fear is receding now that Toronto has their own team. Fat chance. Now it's even worse: we don't just follow football, we follow North American 'Sah-Ker', a gimmicky, family-friendly kick-about on par in terms of wholesomeness with Ultimate Frisbie. I don't know how much pull this team will get once people get a good look at the supposed-hoolie-ultra-over-thirty-and-still-living-in-my-mum's-basement types who fill the south stand at BMO Field. What's happening ON the field doesn't help much either. The same exchange typically follows when I bring normal sports-loving types to witness the on-field fare offered up by the football geniuses at MLSE.

"Why would you pay to see this?"
"Because it's football."
"But it's terrible, there's no joy in this. They're down three-nil and it's not even half time."
"Club football, it's...our club. It's club football."
"Yeah, I'll see you next week sometime, maybe."

So for now, hold the comments to yourself, get your football rocks off at home to yourself in a corner with a well-worn copy of the latest WSC, and pray for the day that you can walk out the house and wear your Beer and nacho-stained Celtic shirt with pride. Such places really do exist. I'll never forget landing in London and taking the tube only to see the faces of Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson slapped on the front pages of every national paper available. So astonished was I that I nudged my half-asleep neighbour awake:

"You mean, people read about this stuff in newspapers and not on a website?"
"Fuck off."
"Right." This was London after all. Nonetheless, for the week I was there, spouting off to anyone who could here me in every two-bit real ale pub in East London, I felt the loser-sheen wash off ever so briefly. I mean, who knows: a riot or two this year at the CNE with a a few dead and many injured and soccer might suddenly get really cool in Toronto. Just make sure when the shit goes down you cover your face: you do have an image to maintain.


Anonymous said...

See this is exactly what I'm talking about. This is original, insightful and relatable. Excellent post!

Georgina Best said...

It's weird how football is an exclusive fan activity in America. In England my experience has been the opposite. As my interest and knowledge of the beautiful game has developed, I have found more and more that it opens social doors.

Richard Whittall said...

Ahh Georgina. Glad you still visit. Football is considered here what ice hockey is over there. You have to be slightly against the grain to go out of your way to watch it. Although the base is growing...

Patrycja said...

Poor thing - you need to find yourself some football friends. The majority of my friends and I have met through a team. We go to TFC games together, and play together. In our world - you're weird if you don't follow it. In fact I always find it amusing when I have to explain it to others. I prefer to look at as a very elite and special insider club. ;-). You only get in to the inner sanctum by being able to talk footie.

BTW - We all sit in the south end and I can honestly say that we are not nerds and none of us lives with their mommy. ;-)