Acts of FandomBy: Sean | June 24th, 2010
This was an email I sent to my boss earlier this week:
[Name Removed for Privacy],
If you don’t object, I’d like to come in a little late tomorrow morning (9:15-ish) to hysterically scream my brains out during the USA-Algeria World Cup match in the relative quiet of my own home. I’m staying later tonight and tomorrow to offset the hours, so no time will actually be lost. Depending upon the result, I will either be wildly ecstatic or inconsolable, but by watching at home you will be spared random roars of joy and/or anguish and the office furniture will be spared a decent thrashing, too.
Let me know if it is a problem. I’m DVR-ing it regardless, but the cosmic soccer quantum physics karmic balance tells us that by watching the match in real time we can affect the outcome and I will do anything to help the boys out.
Because my boss understands just how important the Beautiful Game in general and the World Cup in particular is to me–and perhaps because he didn’t want me to break my laptop in a fit of emotion…or because he wisely knew I was not going to get anything vaguely work-related done from 6:30-9:00 a.m. on the 23rd of June–he agreed.
“I totally get the importance of watching sports live for the whole karma thing,” he smiled.
“I understand baseball has a similar concept,” I answered, referencing his sport of choice.
“Indeed it does.” And just like that, my time off request was approved.
So it was that I found myself alone in my living room on a Wednesday morning when I was usually parked in front of my computer, laying out an MRI exam room for a new hospital or ensuring exhaust ducts fit around structural beams. To see me from the waist down, I was your typical white collar design professional: Slacks, dress socks, and leather shoes that smartly matched my belt. From the waist up, however, it was a very different look: Navy blue US National Men’s Team away jersey and draped around my neck, my red and blue US soccer scarf that smartly matched the shirt.
In retrospect, it seems a bit odd to dress up in my team shirt and scarf all alone in my living room. I wasn’t with buddies cheering the rival side, so it wasn’t a case of one-upsmanship. That had been the case when the US played England. I watched with several guys on my indoor squad, including two Englishmen we’ll call “Deano” and “Scouser”. (Not their real names…or maybe they are their real names!) They were fully kitted out in the complete England whites–jersey, shorts, wristbands, and I’m pretty sure they had the socks, too. A slightly larger collection of Yanks were adorned in various US t-shirts as well as old and new World Cup kits. Nobody sent out an email saying “dress up” but it is just what you do, one of the official unofficial rules of watching big matches in groups. As I’m sure you well know, each of our sides both had their opportunities to rejoice and grouse. Gerrard’s strike in the fourth minute reduced the entire room to cursing. The English: “[Bleep!] yeah! Get in there! YES!” The Americans: “[Bleep!] off! You’ve got to be kidding me! NO!” As I’m sure you also know, fortunes changed near the end of the half with Dempsey’s (in)famous drive at Green. The English: “[Bleep!] off! NOO!!!” The Americans: “OH [Bleep!] YES!! YES!!” And then we all spent the second half mutually agonizing every time the ball got near our respective goal mouths, or the referee called a foul, or somebody failed to connect with a pass. My viewing posture left me hunched forward and involved draping my scarf over my head, not unlike a habit or hood, with my right foot nervously tapping out an unheard rhythm of easily 200 beats per minute. I suspect I burned at least 350 calories during the match. But then with the final whistle it was all over, both sides claimed a point, and our rival clans reunited and were a single indoor soccer team once again.
To watch USA-Algeria, however, I wasn’t with anybody. My Friggin’ Awesome Wife was at work and my daughter Kiki was attending a summer studies camp. It was just me, Max the Kitty, and the commentary of Ian Darke and John Harkes. There was nobody to “one up” and still, without a second thought, I put on the kit and draped the scarf over my head. It was automatic, like turning the television on. We often hear about the superstitious rituals players subscribe to for success or to ensure a favorable result. Just as powerful and just as real are the superstitions the fans also obey. When I emailed my boss and mentioned the “…the cosmic soccer quantum physics karmic balance…” that tells us “…by watching the match in real time we can affect the outcome…” I wasn’t just adding a humorous quip to win over a late start to the day. I totally believe it. I could buy myself a LOT of hours of sleep during the BPL season by setting the DVR and watching three hours after the match has been played, but there is something not quite right about knowing the result exists out there and seeing after the fact. So I dutifully clamor out of bed at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. on the weekend to watch my team and hope my trans-Atlantic energy and good vibes somehow span the planet and help my squad win.
And so it was that I found myself alone in my living room on a Wednesday morning when I was usually parked in front of my computer, laying out an MRI exam room for a new hospital or ensuring exhaust ducts fit around structural beams. As I’m sure you well know, my side had their opportunities to rejoice and grouse. An early Algerian strike rattled the crossbar. A twentieth minute goal ruled offsides. Promising build-up play ending in their keeper’s hands. Over and over again. Enthusiasm turned to optimism, which turned to patient hope and then anxiety. My scarf dropped into my mouth and I chewed uncertainly as my right foot blasted out the staccato techno beat only I could hear. I could feel my heart in my chest almost as if I was playing in the 85th minute, not just watching. “C’mon boys…c’mon boys…[Bleep!] Pass the [bleep!]ing ball!” It should be noted that Max the Kitty had abandoned me somewhere around the seventieth minute, his mostly nocturnal lifestyle greatly distraught by my rowdy protestations and exclamations of frustration at unsuccessful free kicks. Darke announced that there would be four extra minutes and that that should give the US some hope. Indeed it did, but my trans-Atlantic karma was failing, it seemed. The right foot started to slow to 150 BPM…100 BPM. A stray thought about a reflected ceiling plan I needed to redraw at work flickered in my mind.
And then it happened. The Goal. It was for me the emotional equivalent of the adrenaline-shot-straight-to-the-heart scene from “Pulp Fiction” and I was Uma Thurman. I don’t believe the Wordsmith blogging program allows me to make a font big enough to capture the magnitude of the word “YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!” that I screamed in utter hysteria as Donovan slid toward the corner flag. I screamed until I couldn’t hold the word any longer and then, involuntarily, I screamed it again. And again. I screamed until I saw little floaty sparkles around my eyes. Somehow, the remote control smashed onto the floor, disgorging the batteries wildly into the fireplace. I’m pretty sure it still works, but in all fairness, any channel requiring me to push “0″ may be a little tricky to access. The black Ottoman that serves as the coffee table ended up on its side. I started gasping as tears started to form in my eyes but I simply could not stop screaming. There have been two times in my life when I couldn’t control my body: Once after an avalanche in British Columbia while trying to climb Mt. Garabaldi when my legs simply refused to stop walking ahead and June 23rd at approximately 8:50 a.m. when the US netted in added time.
It took about a minute to regain some semblance of composure–and find my shirt, which somehow had come off in the previous goal celebration enthusiams. (Don’t ask. I don’t know either.) With crossed fingers and toes I watched the time run out and with the final whistle, I slumped happily back onto the overturned Ottoman. I turned the television off, threw my black turtleneck over my USMNT kit–black turtlenecks being the official unofficial uniform of architectural design professionals–and drove happily to the office. My co-workers greeted me with smiling eyes over the cubicle partitions as I made my way to my desk; I, in turn, greeted them with a resounding chorus of “USA! USA!” and got laughs from halfway across the building. We talked about the game for ten minutes, all morning, I can’t remember and as I clicked on my computer to get to work on that pesky reflected ceiling plan, I smirked to myself and ripped off the black turtleneck to reveal the US kit…and although it was still two days out from Casual Friday, nobody said a word.
How about you, Weekend Warriors? Is watching your favorite football club as dramatic an experience for you as it is for me? What little superstitions or rituals do you observe to guarantee your team’s success? What random acts of fandom characterize your time at the stadium or in front of the television? I’d love to hear your stories and anecdotes…
[Note: The guy in the picture? Totally not me. I don't have an awesome soccer ball hat...]