Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The solitary life of an American soccer fan
This is my living room in the wee hours of the morning. I've got quite the setup here: some red curry lentil soup, pickled okra, pickled beets and a giant Kirin Ichiban. It's probably the weirdest sports snack you've ever laid eyes on, but it's appropriate. Take a look at the television screen. I'm watching soccer.
Soccer is like the pickled beets (or is it okra) of sports in the United States. And I'm OK with that. I'm not one of those soccer evangelists who likes to go around denouncing everyon who doesn't like the game. I haven't played the sport in any organized form since I was six. I just happen to enjoy watching it. I even chose a team to follow in the Premiership this year, Reading FC.
So this is how I came to be sitting alone on my couch, with the sounds of Britons chanting at the top of their lungs providing an aural backdrop for the calm, accented announcer. I had been waiting all day and night to watch my recording of the FA cup match between my beloved Reading, and those horrible bastards, Manchester United.
It couldn't have started worse. Manchester United scored in the second minute, when the ball slipped through the arms of the goalkeeper they started in place of American Marcus Hahnmann. Then they scored again, catching the poor, catatonic Aussie out of position. Then my DVR's recording went all screwy and the announcer was out of his gourd because it was 3-0. I have no idea what happened. Which is fine because my balky DVR inadvertently provded me with an idea of what it must have been like to be Reading at the time.
I fast forwarded a bit, just to see if the rest of the match would be worth watching, or if I should just skip it and watch some DVR-ed episodes of Frasier. Reading scored to make it 3-1, so I skipped ahead to halftime and fixed the glorious repast you see above.
Incredibly, I watched the entire second half, transfixed. Reading's players kept attacking, and kept playing their asses off as if the game were tied. Manchester United played haughty, seemingly happy to run out the string and advance to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, England's all-comers national tourament. As someone who did not have Reading FC running through my veins in any meaningful way, I was content enough to enjoy the brilliant, indomitable play that Reading was showing on my behalf.
I started typing this blog post when it was 3-1, imagining a pleasant rumination on the nature of the casual, pickle-philic sports fan. But then late substitute Leroy Lita, an imposing, Kinshasha-born striker, who had caught my attention early on in the Premiership season (Reading came back from 2-0 down to win its debut). Several minutes later, he scored an astounding goal seeming to catch and redirect the ball almost 90 degrees with his head. Reading now had a notion with about six or seven minutes left.
I was transfixed. I couldn't have looked away if I had to. When, in stoppage time, a hard drive beat United goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar but not the crossbar, I jumped off my sofa -- nearly upsetting my computer -- and landed in a crouch I maintained until the final whistles.
A perfectly innocuous night had been transformed for me. I stuck by "my" team, watched the balance of a game I could have easily quit on, and though I didn't get the reward of a win, I still get to feel as if I witnessed something amazing.
And now I really, really hate Manchester United.