Saturday, February 12, 2011

Here is Where I Do Not Explain My Absence

Did you think that because I was silent, I was still? Well then, you trust yourself too much. My machinery doesn't turn off as soon as you leave the room. We've been working here, slowly at first, small motions: curling toes, one, two, three. Now fingers. Muscles under skin, cruciate ligament, tibia to fibula. Progress is not incremental, I've told myself. And again. 

There are alot of things we need to talk about. And yes, we need to find a nicer place to do it.  This place is fraying, you can glimpse the plastic underneath.  I'm working on it (see: muscles under skin, cruciate ligament- yes yes, you see. I'm talking technologies. Clever, you.) 

Football used to be the place I went to get lost. Somewhere along the line it collapsed into the sum of its parts. Lives inventoried like so many chalkboards. Hazy, vague mornings killed off 140 at a time before they had a chance to mean anything. 

I am not a chalkboard, and neither are you. Let's choose that, and start again. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Cesc-With Love and Squalor on The Night Before Spain's First Game

Hey, Cesc. Can you hear me? You seen any elephants yet? Oh, right. Stupid question, Liz. Ok. I know it's late there. It’s just that- I’m gonna see you for the first time tomorrow and it’s hard. I mean- to see you with them. No, not Switzerland. Them. All of them. And him. Pique. Do you have any idea how it feels watching you guys laughing and joking and having cool hair together? No. I know we've been over this: it’s not your fault you have cool hair. I know Pique's hair just does that. But hey- we've got good hair too. Arshavin: babysoft. Rosicky: bohemian chic. Sagna! What about- ok. You're right. The hair's not the point. But I still can't bear the thought of you all listening to dance music together and you getting that glow you get when you hang out with them. You know you do, Cesc. Your Catalan glow. 
And I get it- I mean, who I am anyway? Just some lousy fool who against every contrarian impulse has chosen to believe in Arsenal and its built-in suffering. A club that’s made me believe in the RIGHT WAY OF DOING THINGS, in- oh. Rhetorical question. Right. That’s another conversation. But- is it? I mean:  think about it. You are the most perfect product of our footballing philosophy. Yes yes I know. You are not a product. You are a person, Cesc Fabregas, you are a person. I’m not being sarcastic. That’s just the way I talk. I’m American, remember? Hey, don’t forget: we have the same birthday. That should count for something shouldn't it? May 4 buddies in the house! Ok ok. I'm sorry. Weak. Won’t bring it up again. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Being Boring

I don’t think Spain is boring, but I understand the thrill that comes from saying they are. A couple of weeks ago I decided to advocate for benching Xavi knowing I’d get destroyed for it. A journalistic death wish. It felt great, even if I didn't let anyone read it. I’m not crazy, after all. There are finer football minds engaged in this debate, and every possible point has been covered. I thought a very forlorn Raphael Honigstein summed it best when he was asked on the podcast why Germany didn’t play the game we were used to seeing against Spain. “It’s difficult to express yourself when you’re being asphyxiated.”
And there you have it. Spain creates a vacuum of beauty on the pitch. The tragic aspect of their dominance in possession is the way they make the giddiest teams like Germany or Russia of 2008, teams that rely on counterattack, that run on oxygen and sparks, look cheap and desperate, even a little pathetic. Spain is a charming girl at a dinner party who wants you to laugh at all her brilliant jokes but won’t even let you tell yours. It’s a bit exhausting to always be in thrall. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Match Report: My Soccer Heart & My Human Heart: (Spain v. Germany Semifinal)

I think Alexi Lalas was speaking about the Algeria game when he said it first. At the time I took it as confirmation that he was a robot come to torture us. Well, I wish to publicly rescind that: I think Mr. Alexi Lalas made an exceptionally eloquent distinction when he attempted to explain the different desires of his “soccer heart” and his “human heart.” What I liked about his mumbled, attempted differentiation was that it wasn’t just a lazy breakdown between thinking and feeling, or between head and heart. What he seemed to be attempting to express was that different parts of your heart can long for different things, and find beauty in different things, and need different things to satisfy it. And so last night I watched - just as I had exactly two years ago when Spain decimated Russia, the first team I ever fell in love with- my human heart be broken while my soccer heart nearly exploded with joy.
When Spain is playing well, I am reminded of why I watch football; the infinite possibilities of space. A few times, when I’ve concentrated hard enough, I can see them as points in space, and not people. It’s difficult for me, but it has happened. Watching them beat Germany yesterday made me understand football better. And in no way is it only “intellectually rewarding”: it’s guttural, alive, immersing. And when it was through I was devastated that it was over: I knew with another half an hour, there was more they could teach me. When I’m watching Spain spin their web, well, it’s like being in love.  

Missing Muller and Considering The Psychological Wonders of Nicklas Bendtner

If Thomas Muller becomes a great German player and this young German team becomes a great team, which all signs are certainly pointing to, his unfair exclusion from the semi-final will take on more and more historical importance. I expected a louder outcry over his preposterous yellow card; all I can assume is that Suarez had already used up the all the possibilities of indignation in the tournament. And that it was a matter of timing: at that moment in the win over Argentina, Germany was flying so high it felt like they had players to spare, an embarrassment of counterattacking riches. But if for some reason this kinetic young team falls apart due to injuries, or internal strife, the only thing keeping it from being a "what if?" for the ages is the clear technical superiority of the Spanish. Because Muller's absence was an obvious game-changer. They obviously missed his presence in the box, and his height and ability to convert set pieces. But as I watched the Germans come out of the tunnel without Muller, and I saw Ozil’s nervous, stricken expression, and the changed demeanor of all of the young players, I wondered if it wasn't more than that. I wondered if they didn’t mainly miss The Bendtner Factor.
(And just like a woman I used to work with who managed to bring everything I said, however idiosyncratic and obscure, be it meeting times or printer ink, back to what she had eaten for lunch, so today I am with Arsenal. It’s what happens at cusp times like this. The end of the regular season seems to exist only to tell us about the country teams; the first friendlies were useful mainly to confirm what we knew was broken about the club teams. And so in order to re-engage with club and prepare to face the spiritual abyss after Sunday, I’m grasping at any metaphor and connection I can and hoping for multiplication. Let’s just see if this one holds, shall we?)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

International Levitations & Optical Illusions: Assorted Thoughts on Watching Germany Beat England & Argentina

It’s all so gorgeously disorienting. Pleasure comes from the most unexpected sources. Every team is pulling a fast one on us, or really, they’ve been there under our noses the whole time as we allowed ourselves to keep watching ghost versions of them, reflections of who we wanted them to be. I pride myself on not falling prey to stereotypes of national identify, and yet I’ve been as exposed as anyone for holding nonsensical notions. Right now, we can’t trust our eyes.  Or actually we can only trust our eyes, and nothing else. 
After watching Germany’s last couple of games I have no idea what is real and what I’m creating out of some sort of heady liberation from my preconceived notions and my senses. All I know is we might only have another 90 minutes to watch it happen. So we need to keep our eyes peeled. They’re moving fast; they’ll dummy us all if we’re not careful. As for me, it’s clear I can’t trust myself. I am under various spells and being acted on by various forces. The first opiate: bandwagon fumes.  I’ve always been susceptible, it's the curse of the contrarian. So driven by my own resistance to what is popular that the harder I fight the harder I fall. The spring from my own resistance has a momentum of its own. Perspective is lost. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Here is Where I Sleep Through The Ghana v. Uruguay Game

And briefly lose all hope. This is also where I start to worry about what my life will look like on the other side of the formation I've constructed as a shelter. It's a simple 4-2-3-1. I needed something safe. I wanted to blend in. When I tell the story of today, I'll try to tell you from the inside and not the outside where I'll already be, even though something will be lost; the day's unglossiness, some necessary frictions.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Mornings

You sit in smoke residue and drink strong tea, or warm beer, and you are happy. You love the shuffling in, the shared sense of shame and mischief and mutual addiction: no one has ever wandered into a darkened pub in a snowstorm at 8am on a Sunday by accident. Men, young and old, shake snow off jackets, the night before still written on their faces, and in their hair. You attempt to remember a time when you were content to spend Sunday mornings pressed up against and screaming with, sometimes at, only one dirty, hungover boy. Now anything less than fifty is a disappointment. But the sleepy smell of contented aggression, of soap and the scorned possibilities of soap, is the same.
Every once in a while there’s a girlfriend along, half-awake and texting. You’re careful not to judge them: after all, you started as a girlfriend enjoying the simple idea of the game, the feeling of the pub. But then you didn’t want to be a girlfriend anymore, and then you weren’t, and you realized you found neither the feeling nor the idea simple at all. So you kept coming. Anyway, usually there aren’t girlfriends or any girls at all that early in the morning. There is only you.

A Strategy of Hugs

Any follower of English football would be touched by the site of Carlos Tevez beaming with pride at Maradona after his second goal against Mexico. Tevez’s history with management is complicated and genuinely sad- manipulated, used, bought and sold, discarded- and look at that! Maradona figured it out. All Carlitos really needed was to be told he was doing a good job. Tevez has come alive under Maradona’s Papa Smurf Brand of Inspirational Methodology- he’s having a cracking tournament and reminding every team Argentina meets how unwise it is to undervalue him. 
And yet- I’m surprised by the unilateral endorsement of Maradona’s displays of affection. I acknowledge their charm. All that boisterous male cuddling and hair tousling would thaw even the coldest heart (um, mine). For better or worse, Maradona has staged the most sustained and authentic-ish show of male affection in recent history. That’s worth something. Think what fun it would be to see them play the Dutch, a team whose peculiar icy repressions and unwilling communications isolate them on and off the pitch. I can already see Van Persie looking to the sidelines longingly at the prospect of a big bear hug and a pat on the back. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Here is Where The Invisible Female Football Fan Will Be Made Visible

Also more generalities and one or two specificities of being a female football fan. Some having to do with etiquette, a few having to do with boys, but mostly all concerning language. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Here is a Placeholder That Was Made in the USA

Here, or somewhere abouts, is where my survey of all things USA will inevitably nestle. Clint! Clint! Clint! That other guy! Emancipation from the English! Clint! More a note for me (Liz!) than you, because before you even read this threat of emerging, the actual emerging might have taken its place. But we need the note just in case; can not risk losing the timeline. In football it's really all we have. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Clipped Wings: Generational Fractures in the Magical Kingdom of Iberia

I find nothing more seductive than process except writing about seduction by process. As soon as Spain gently defeated Honduras, I ran to my computer, giddy at the prospect of writing yet another piece about a team who became so enamored with the act of playing that they forget to score goals. A piece I could add to my library full of unfinished explorations of every possible cliche of Arsenal heartbreak. Unfinished because in the middle of each piece I would be driven to write down thoughts about writing my piece about process. But once I thought on Spain v. Honduras and wrote about my thoughts about thinking on it, I realized that I wasn't concerned by the over-simplified threat of "death by passing". Instead, I noticed a couple of emerging on-pitch fissures on the Spain team that the translucent anonymity of the Honduran performance had brought to the surface.
Spain’s early efforts were full of the fresh, elegant, telepathic play they’re known for and every football fan on earth (outside Tegucigalpawas at least) simply had to find pleasure in Villa’s one great- and one supergreat- goal. But by the middle of the second half, they looked out of ideas and exhausted. Much of the post-match analysis focused on Torres’ wastefulness of chances, but placing blame on him seems given how little game time he’s had since his surgery, and with the Jabulani/altitude combination. But mainly it seems odd because I found myself transfixed by Torres' early missing. As much as I admire Torres, he’s never been one of my favorite players to watch. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watching him play as much as I did today.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stop Blaming the Players and Start Blaming Yourselves: Thoughts on the First Week

Note: I am too slow. Thoughts and observations come quickly; connecting them is a bloody crawl. And so, since I started writing this Switzerland has upset Spain and Forlan has scored a hundred goals. In 24 hours this little note has become a historical document, and I’m forced to rewind myself into yesterday, before a couple of open games convinced us all that our lives were worth living again. 
This week’s panic didn't seem to build: it was right there, obviously already coiled and ready, waiting within us. The whole world hungry for meaning and for something pure. Hovering and set to pounce. In a way, I think we all needed this World Cup too much. We longed for this terrible month long high, this instant transport to our fractured pasts, to our personal timelines of World Cups. So much more than a madeline, or an accidental song on the radio: the World Cup has become a sort of nostalgia corporation, pumping out projections of a more innocent time. It’s a ghost world of man-boys, queueing up for a tour of their childhood room: these are my model airplanes. This (bounce bounce) was my single bed. Do you wanna look at my Panini albums?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Here is Where I Will Announce Something That I Will Not Do

Later I will spend time attempting to convince us both that my failure revealed more than my success ever could. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Disconnect Me: Thoughts on the Night Before the Most Connected Human Event of All Time

Today I found myself longing for a Tuesday afternoon Carling Cup qualifier. Just me and a couple other obsessives who wanted to see their team’s young players in action, players that wouldn’t start for a couple of years, if ever. Or perhaps an early-season Serie A game at an empty, half-rate Little Italy bar, bartender flirting with a couple of Dutch tourists as I was bored and hypnotized, lulled, by the lazy back and forth of Parma and Bari in a game of absolutely no consequence. 
Please understand: I love the World Cup. I am thrilled to see something that means so much to me mean so much to other people. I love how it connects the whole world. And yet- and I know it’s unfashionable- but there is a certain sadness, almost a mourning- that comes from suddenly having to share something that means so much to you with everyone else. The idea of sharing soccer with the whole world for an entire month suddenly struck me this afternoon as, well, rather profoundly exhausting. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Week Before: The Nike Ad and All These Broken Bodies

The first time I watched the Nike ad I liked it well enough. I mean: how fun! Ronal-doh! But afterwords I was left with a lingering feeling of nothing, and then a growing level of disturbance. This is hardly just an ad after all: it’s the single biggest artistic statement about the World Cup- about soccer in general-that will be distributed in the US. Obviously they constructed it so it could be experienced on different levels, depending on your level of knowledge. But it was just wrong. About everything. For everyone. 

Ok. So. It’s poking fun at the personas soccer players take on. So far, so good. We can all understand that. But it’s the laziest poking possible: it’s all just so obvious. This is a multimillion dollar soccer commercial that doesn’t give any indication of knowing a thing about any existing soccer subtexts. The only piece that touches on more than canned aspiration is Rooney’s; at least it gets at the odd tragedy of his class striving and makes a nod to his mysterious tendency to signify as a Bear. But that’s about it. Sure, I suppose I’m use to a high-level of football satire, but the ladies at Kickette could have written a more interesting script in their most champagne-soaked sleep. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Here is Where I Will Lay Down The Rules

The ones I learned along the way. Before this whole World Cup thing gets going. Not life rules. Just football rules. Life of Football Rules. Trouble is I didn't tell them to you before this whole World Cup thing got going, and you can't tell someone the rules after the games are already finished. But my heart is so heavy with constructed guidelines and hidden codes of conduct that only I know the architecture of. Listen to me tell them to you and nod. Imagine I'm your grandma. The grandma at the pub.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Match Report: Friendly Currents (England vs. Mexico Friendly, 5.24.10)

A friendly is like an electrical grid. Parallel currents at different voltages headed to different destinations. Directions and objectives opposed but still getting and giving energy to a bigger network. It’s bodies and it’s running but it’s not a game exactly; it’s more and less than a game. Everyone on the pitch is playing their own game of candidacy, but they’re also just an x on a chalkboard in motion. Speeds become personal: while some players are just going through the motions, jogging in place, others fight for their lives. On the surface a friendly can seem boring, exclusively theoretical, but if you look more closely there's terror and panic. You never know when you'll hit a live wire; an unanticipated connection; a shock to the system.

Match Report Part 2: The Power of A Head Bandage (England vs. Mexico Friendly, 5.24.10)

At some point during the first half of the friendly against Mexico, Steven Gerrard took a knock on the head. He returned to the pitch with a bandage on his head and a new outlook on life. During the Chelsea v. Liverpool game a couple of weeks ago, I compared him to a mental patient; with roughly-wrapped gauze around his forehead he certainly looked like one. But a liberated one. Gerrard looked like a mental patient who had escaped from the asylum of his season at Liverpool through a very small bathroom window and thrown his sedatives into the artificial pond as he roared out of the compound. At least until the mania hit, intoxication was guaranteed: with his freedom, with everyday life, with breathing. Alternatively, you might say he looked like a little kid who fell out of bed after a season-long nap. Watch out mummy, he’s mad and he’s ready to play! Take your pick. He was a man resurrected. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Match Report: Sanatorium FC (LIverpool v. Chelsea, 5.4.10)

If Nicole Diver and Hans Castorp pulled their friends at the sanatorium out of their beds to play a match, this is what the match would look like. Televised Ambien. At first it makes sense: after all it’s 8am on Sunday, I’m hungover, wrapped up in blankets on the couch and I could care less about either Liverpool or Chelsea. I’m watching solely to will Liverpool to win so Chelsea doesn’t take the title. A defensive viewing like this is never passionate or pretty. But slowly it dawns on me that the players are not hungover on the couch wrapped in blankets watching teams they don’t care about. So how come they look like they are?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Here a New Life Will Be Told in a Season

There are notes. Many notes. Charts, game plans, stats. Occasionally there is also something about football. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This is Where I Will Tell You a Story

About The Year of The Fleet-Footed and Football. Emphasis on The Fleet-Footed. Territories covered: Italy, Africa, the west coast, the east coast, and the strange land in the middle. But don't fret: mostly we'll talk about Ireland. Since that's where the story becomes a story, more than shreds and scraps. But I'll need your help. It'll take both of us to piece it together, to see what fits.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From the Vaults: Euro 2008, Falling for the Russians

There's not much I can add to the technical accounts or the general mob of giddiness around the way Andrei Arshavin is playing, but I'd like to add my gasp to the chorus. It's nice to see the sportswriters besotted for a change, reminded of why they become sportswriters in the first place. Using their words. Taking a few moments to set aside their legitimate criticisms of the materialism of the game, their necessary muckracking, to pull out some dusty poetries.

Usually when R. and I watch a game at the pub in Pasadena, we have to park a couple of blocks away, and walk past the Humane Society. The collective whimper leaking out is audible. We keep talking. We walk faster. We push our hands deep into our pockets. But today when we passed by, an Asian family was leaving the building, a mom and a dad and a young boy of maybe 11 or 12, with a serious, kind face. In his hand, he held the leash of the happiest dog I've ever seen. A mutty sort of maybe-Labrador grinning from ear to mangy ear. I had what I felt was a logical reaction to this scene: I burst into tears. Even from across the street, I was overcome by the dog's relief.

Mind you, I don't mean in any way to compare Arshavin to a dog. But the feeling I experienced watching that scruff of a dog look up at his new owner did not diminish as I watched Russia play the Dutch; it grew. The Russians were light, and fleet-footed, and fearless. Of course, this is Hiddink's way, to send his team forward even if it's a suicide mission. And of course, it's Russia's way right now as well, their oil enabling Ikeas in Siberia as the rest of Europe packs up their table linens and prepares to crumble into the sea, villas first. 

But like that dog, who could hardly believe his good luck at finally getting the chance to be a real dog, to be himself- to love this little boy, and bark at the postman, and sleep the hot Pasadena afternoon away- these Russian boys with their supernaturally terrible haircuts, their pale and flushed and wiry bodies, and their insistence on dribbling like it was still in style- showed that they're at this tournament not just to convince a club to buy or sell them.

They're on that field just to play, to say fuck it and push forward down the field, instead of hugging the back line and waiting to die. To feel the weightlessness that comes from not waiting anymore, and to rush into the selves they have been preparing to be. They are becoming 
themselves on the Euro 2008 fields, because a soccer star can't be a soccer star without the world watching, just like a dog can't truly be a dog without a little boy chasing him around the yard. It's thrilling to watch.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Here is Not The Beginning

Before this there was a concussion, a tongue swollen from orange slices, and the night of firecrackers in Siracusa. But if we want to see our way through all of this- with whom else could we possibly begin?