Football and fiction: move and be moved.


Earlier this week I submitted to Aethlon: The Journal Of Sport Literature again (last time they gave me a really nice rejection letter. It’s an excerpt from a short novella about gateball and a miners’ strike.

It’s Games Like This That You Learn From

We finally lost for the second time this season, but this time we were torn to shreds. This time we can’t just blame it on bad luck. It hurts. I haven’t felt this upset and disappointed and inadequate in a long time. And there are new feelings too, to go along with those almost forgotten ones, feelings that I wouldn’t have had in my younger days: self-doubt, fear, helplessness. I’m not so old that I don’t remember what comes next, but do I still have the courage and the fire to work through this?

This happens to all of us. (If it’s any consolation, how must Rio Ferdinand feel today, conceding four to Spurs yesterday? Or, even worse, how must David Luiz feel about that game against Germany?) But this is why we do it: the game makes us feel. 

There is purpose now, and so, if I’m a little lost in football at the moment, I’m found—more certain—in life. 

A few years ago I would have hit the gym hard after the game thinking that I just needed to make myself stronger and faster. The struggle against the weights would numb out the pain of the loss and give me reason to think I’d do better the next week. I’m older and I now think it’s knowledge that will prevent this catastrophe from happening again. I will read, and study diagrams, and analyze videos, and discuss with other players until I believe in myself again.

Almost Scored On The Wrong Goal

I managed another shot on target yesterday, but this time—despite having a decent amount of pace on it and having taken it from point-blank range—the keeper saved it. A good thing too because it was at the wrong end of the pitch! It’s also a good thing that no one bets on the reserve team games or that would have looked really sketchy. Ultimately this tomfoolery may well have prevented a goal, so all’s well that end’s well?

The Big Dilemma: Do I Watch With the Brazilians or the Chileans?

A very close friend from Chile has asked me to go to Toronto with him to watch the match with a big group of Chileans there. A colleague from work has asked me to watch the match with a few members of the Brazilian community here in town. 

The case for Chile: 

Even before meeting this buddy of mine, I knew a bit about Chilean football: I remember Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas from FIFA 99. Over the last few years, I’ve watched enough matches with this friend to know most of the national team players, and to know a bit about their club football too. My friend brought me back a shirt from his local club, and I’m planning to join him the next time he goes back for a visit. I like the gutsy way Chile play, their commitment to attack regardless of who they’re playing or what the score is. I love the commitment of their fans: apparently thirty thousand of them (many of them quitting their jobs to do so) formed a convoy to make the five day drive through four countries to support their side in Brazil. Because Chile are the underdogs and, on paper, will get knocked out on Saturday, it could be a long time until I get a chance to watch with the Chileans in Toronto again. I also tend to love fairytales cup runs and like backing underdogs.

The case for Brazil:

As a fan of the beautiful game, I can’t help but be a fan of Brazil. I have always allowed them to be the exception to my underdog backing tendency. I remember reading about Pelé and Garrincha as a child. In my university days I spent hours on YouTube studying Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, and watching Joga Bonito commercials. I know the squad they’ve fielded this time might not be as flashy and entertaining as some we’ve seen in the past, but these young boys have a lot riding on them, and I can’t help but hope they do pull it off on home soil. I remember learning about what happened in 1950, and how much it hurt Brazilians, and I cannot help but hope this doesn’t happen to them again, especially with all the stuff going on off the field. Even though I’ve heard that—in the wake of the economic situation surrounding the World Cup—some Brazilians have chosen not to support their team, I still believe a Brazilian victory would be good for the country. Perhaps it would be a chance for the players to speak out for their people the way Drogba and the Elephants did when the Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup. In pure footballing terms, a loss for Brazil would hurt its supporters a lot more than a loss for Chile would hurt the Chileans. Also, I have an away match Sunday, so the better thing for my own football would be staying here and watching with the Brazilians.

Any thoughts?

Day 10

I returned to London (Ontario) and watched the Germany - Ghana game in a pub with some old friends from high school and a newer friend (a student from overseas). Somehow the pub was almost empty, but there was a German guy sitting by himself at the table behind us and we got to talking after he jokingly threatened me when I said something nice about Ghana. His accent was only noticeable if you listened for it.

After the game he said he couldn’t remember how goal difference worked (he was a little bit older). I explained it to him and in return he told me what the second half of Schweinsteiger’s name meant: climber. 

Days 6-9

The past couple of days I’ve just been streaming whatever I can from my desk at work. Am I allowed? Well, the other day, seconds after the Dutch put in their first goal against Australia, my boss (who’s half Dutch) arrived at my desk to celebrate. When he looked up at my monitor, fist pumping turned to face palming as he watched Tim Cahill smashing in a van Persie style volley.

While I haven’t been able to watch every minute of every game (I do actually have to do work), I have managed to keep up with some of the biggest stories unfolding. I was tuned in when both Spain and England were sent packing. Even when I’m not watching, I’m usually at least listening. 

Day 5

I watched the match at Shoeless Joe’s with an American. The tables in front and behind us were supporting Ghana, and the one to our left, America. To antagonize my friend, I chose to support Ghana. Towards the end of the match I started getting vocal. Your true self comes out when things get tense and you don’t have time to filter your emotions. Apparently the soft spot I’d grown for Ghana back in 2010 is still inside me. Or I like watching comebacks.

Day 4

During the 3.5 hour bus ride back from our away game, I watched a stream of the match with some of my Bosnian teammates. There were about a dozen of us trying to share a single phone, so I had trouble seeing the ball from where I was. I could tell when Bosnia had a set piece, though. Then I’d hear my teammates mutter “jebem ti”, and I’d know it hadn’t gone in.

Day 3

Today I watched the match with a friend who is half English and half Italian. So far, the teams of all the friends I’ve watched with have played well.

I also watched the other three games today. Tomorrow I might not get to watch any, as I have an away game some 3.5 hours away.

The Game Touches Us All

I know a guy who came over from France within the last year. When I meet people from Europe (actually from anywhere outside Canada or the US), my first thought is to wonder: “What club do you support?” “What is your feeling about your national team?” “What is your football story?”

I usually keep these thoughts to myself, but if I stay in contact with the person long enough, it usually eventually comes out. In this particular case, as the World Cup approached, several times he made it clear that he had no interest in football, and would not watch even his own France. There was a slight disappointment in me: France 98 was the World Cup that had brought me into the football world and here I was with—who I imagined to be—the one French guy who didn’t know or care about the game. 

It came out the day before yesterday, on the first day of the World Cup. His brother was at a PSG game with a friend. Things got dicey amongst supporters and friend was hit by a stray bullet fired by a policeman. Friend and the intended target were the two people who died that day, and apparently regulations were changed as a result.

The game touches all of us, but not always for the best.