Thursday, January 9, 2014

Love is a losing game

Monday night while the rest of America was watching a thrilling BCS championship game I was up til the wee hours of the morning suffering through another kind of football match that took place earlier in the day in Rome. Thanks to the magic of DVR it was like watching live. On this night my beloved Inter Milan lost to rivals Lazio in the worst possible fashion on an 82nd minute goal from a German goal-scoring machine named Miroslav Klose. As I trudged off to bed in the foulest possible mood I had to ask myself: "Why do you put yourself through this?"

This was the second unhappy chapter in a depressing footballing weekend which began on Saturday with my other love, Tottenham (polygamy is allowed in football), losing to their north London rivals the "vile legion of scum" otherwise known as Arsenal. It's been a roller-coaster ride of emotions for Spurs supporters and we're only halfway through the season. Three days before we'd been on top of the world after a stirring New Year's Day win over Manchester United at their once-invincible fortress called Old Trafford.

So why do I invest so much emotional energy into supporting not one, but two clubs that play across the ocean, in time zones that make watching their games a logistical challenge? Again, thank God for DVR! Well, once I have the answer I'll write about it, but for now here's the beginning of a terrific piece by another American football fan, Aaron Wolfe of Brooklyn, reflecting on another day of ignominy involving the hated Arsenal, which paradoxically turned him into a "til I die" Spurs supporter.

This past Christmas and New Years I traveled with my family and a large group of friends to a cabin in Upstate New York. We drank, we ate, we were merry, there was hiking, singing, laughing, games, and good fun all around.

But there was one thing that was a steady topic of conversation: the bewilderment that all of them felt by my need to wake up at 8AM to watch the Football on TV.

Over and over again I was asked “why football?” and “why Tottenham.” It’s a nearly impossible question to answer when you are an American being asked by other Americans that, like you, have all been raised on Baseball and the ‘other’ Football. Never mind the ‘Tottenham Question’ which for me has to include a treatise on what it means to be a ‘Jewish Team’ and how I don’t care about that, but how there is this bar that used to be around the corner from my house which was the official New York Spurs supporters bar, and how I was dragged there against my will, and something about marauding style, and Modric, Bale, Adebayor, Redknapp, etc, etc...

Usually their eyes glaze over around the eighth minute of explanation and I get to go back to punching the couch in disgust as we give the ball away, or yet another attack fizzles out.

But in truth, there is a much simpler reason why I’m Tottenham: that horrible game at the Emirates a few years ago. You know the one: 2-2 at the half, and then 3-2, and then 4, and then 5-2 as the whistle blew.

At the half I had stumbled, shell-shocked, into the street to stand with the smokers (I’d long quit but I still feel some sort of solidarity with the rest of my lung-destroying comrades). Next door to the Spurs Bar is an Arsenal Pub, as though it was the perfect scale recreation of North London in sleepy Brooklyn.

A single lone gooner stood outside smoking, while dozens poured out of the Spurs bar. He grinned an evil grin, then mumbled something about “there’s only one team in London” and then nervously went back inside the minute he saw the hate and fury on our faces. I thought then, as I do now, about the passion we felt, all 300 of us, packed into that bar craning our necks to see the game on screens that were way too small and way too old to handle the number of us. I thought then, as I do now, how the Arsenal bar was practically empty despite the shiny new HD screens that lined the wall behind the booze. I pictured then, as I do now, that that is how it is in North London — a place I’ve never been but a place I spend my weekends dwelling in, living as though on GMT despite being so many miles away.

As I watched our team turn glory into pain at the end of that game, the crowd began to sing. An arm was thrown around my shoulder “I’m Tottenham til I die, I’m Tottenham til I die, I know I am, I’m sure I am...”

I’ll admit, now, that my eyes teared up. And when the song changed to “Tottenham when I’m dead...” I knew it was true. I had no choice in the matter, the baptism by fire had been performed and there was no turning back.

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