My name is Stephen and I’m a hope-aholic.
I had my first bad experience with hope a few years back. It was around the time a footballer, a footballer I adored, called Fernando Torres spoke about his love for Liverpool, my team, for the team I’ve loved since I was old enough to kick a ball. He spoke about how he believed he could achieve everything he wanted at the club. How he felt at home here. How he was loved and supported by the fans and how he wanted to repay that love by winning things for Liverpool Football Club, for those same fans.
He handed in a transfer request and moved to Chelsea a few months later.
My second bad experience with hope came about a year ago. It was around the time another footballer, another footballer I adored, called Luis Suarez, said this: “I want to stay. Despite everything that happened, I’m happy here, on and off the pitch. Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in Europe, a historical one. When I was a boy I watched them play and loved it. And the club itself, they are happy with me and want me to stay. They know that what happened had nothing to do with sports and its history now. I have a contract until 2016 and they already want to renew it. The coach keeps trusting in me and that’s very important, especially after I was out during 8 matches.” Those 8 matches he spoke of were for racially abusing Patrice Evra, but hey, we don’t dwell on that do we, ‘cos he was innocent, ‘cos he was one of ours…
I’d hoped that Luis was telling the truth. I’d hoped he’d be the one who committed his future to Liverpool and actually meant it. I’d hoped he’d be the one who would show the rest of the world of football that loyalty was still alive, that being supported and loved by the fans meant something to him, that he realised he had something special, something only a few players get in their careers – the complete and unwavering support of thousands of people week in, week out, stood in your corner, backing you to the hilt, willing to ignore your many misdemeanors, arguing in their offices and shops and pubs with their mates who support other teams why you’re just misunderstood, why you’re not a racist, why you have to go down theatrically to avoid injury, why you really mean it when you say you’re going to stay.
On 6th August 2013 I had my fatal dose of hope.
Brendan Rodgers spoke in an interview about his unfaltering belief that Luis Suarez was going nowhere. He was here to stay until the club decided it was in their best interests for him not to be. I hoped he was telling the truth. I hoped this was the end of it. I hoped this was the end of all the stories about contract clauses and possible transfer requests. The end of the thoughts about being betrayed…again.
And then came the other interview.
“Set me free” was one headline.
“Let me go” was another.
They weren’t headlines for an interview with someone being held hostage in some far-flung, war-torn country that hardly anyone has heard of.
It wasn’t from a prisoner locked up in a cell for a crime they didn’t commit.
It wasn’t from Shaker Aamer, an innocent man held in Guantanamo Bay since 2002 despite being cleared for release twice in that time.
It was an interview with a man who lives in a mansion, who gets paid £100,000 a week and who is loved and adored by millions of people around the world. A man who was found guilty of racially abusing another professional, a man who refused to shake the hand of the same professional upon their next meeting, a man who is currently serving a 10 game ban for biting a fellow professional during a game – for the second time in his career – and yet a man who despite all that, retained the support and love of his devoted followers around the world. And now a man who wanted out of a contract, a contract that only 12 months ago he signed, a contract that set him and his family up for life and a contract that was supposed to show the world how committed he was to his current employers.
It was my own fault really. I didn’t have to have hope. I could have been like so many other people and just expected this to happen one day. After all, footballers are only in it for themselves, right? It’s only about the money for them, isn’t it? There is no loyalty in football anymore, correct? Maybe all those things are true, maybe I’m a fool for having hope, maybe it’s time to finally go cold turkey and try to survive on brutal, hard, reality, and finally understand that there is no loyalty, no morals, no respect left in football.
But then…what’s that? A footballer chose to stay at the same club for his whole career? That same footballer turned down the advances of some of the biggest clubs in the world to stay loyal to his home town club, the club he supported as a boy? And that same footballer, only a year ago, turned down Bayern Munich, the team that would go on to claim the European Cup last season, despite being in the twilight of his career and possibly never getting to grace the most prestigious club competition in the world ever again?
Surely not? Surely he’s a dying breed? Surely he’s the last of his kind?
I hope not.
There’s that word again.
One day in the future, will we see a player who stands in front of the media, addressing the people around the world who love and adore him, and telling them that he’s here to stay, that the love and support he receives every day from them means the world to him, and that he intends to repay it all by giving his all, and committing himself to the club for the rest of his career…and he will really, honestly, mean it?
I doubt it. And I doubt he’ll truly mean it even if did say it.
But I can hope, can’t I?
After all, what else do we have if we don’t have hope?