The transfer window slammed shut yesterday. What began last Thursday ended late Monday—Torres is gone. That short time exposed us to twists, turns and helicopter rumors but two thoughts stayed constant in my mind: enough drama already and this is a dishonor to the fans.
The two thoughts are inextricably linked because it has been such a tumultuous season. To be more exact, it has been a tumultuous two seasons. Have we seen the last of the drama? Is the exodus of Fernando Torres the full stop to the drama of ownership concerns, sacked managers, court rooms, poor poor performances, or frantic, record breaking transfers? It is probably naïve to think so. Some of these events are just part of the game but we have recently experienced the extreme.
In talking with other fans, many have expressed the belief that more players might leave this summer. That’s what I thought Torres would do—wait until summer, see out LFC and the fans through the season, then be on his way. His on-pitch demeanor has seemed to, at the very least, hint at dissatisfaction. But who could have predicted this move and in with few days left in the transfer window? What message does this send to fans?
While I think it is in poor taste to burn an LFC jersey because a player departs, I absolutely heard the message those fans were sending (even if you think they were prompted by media): you burned us, we’re going to burn you. No matter when Torres left there was always going to be animosity expressed towards him and his decision. In this instance, however, it is clearly the manner in which he chose to leave that intensifies matters. Given his past statements about Liverpool, how he’s embraced the city and LFC fans have embraced him, it’s impossible to imagine fans reacting with anything other than anger. What has happened to loyalty and honesty? Do we expect players to stay at a club their entire career? I certainly do not even though the idea appeals to my sentimental side. Do we expect people to show some class and sophistication? I’m not sure anymore; I’ve become too cynical on human intelligence and behavior but I think we should expect it. So, how should Torres have handled this situation?
We are all aware Torres made a statement that he would not play for another Premier League team but put that aside. Everyone’s desires and circumstances change in life including players who have no doubt experienced the stress of the last two seasons as well. They have life goals, be it a financial goal, award or otherwise. Let’s focus only on this situation. After all the drama, could he have not released a statement saying something like, “I want to thank Liverpool, its citizens and the fans of LFC for their support. It is time for me to move on in my career but I appreciate the support I’ve been shown.” The message is not any different—he would still be leaving—but would your opinion of him be better because of it? Would it have shown him to be a properly-spined human being?
So often we ascribe deeper meaning to the things in life that we care about. A song with just the right lyrics comes on at just the right time; a conversation is overheard regarding the same topic you just spoke about to a friend; the phone ringing at the precise moment you pick it up to dial the very person who’s ringing: all signs. I suppose I believe that things happen for a reason even if I hesitate to call that fate. And, as a Liverpool fan, I often weave what’s happening with the club into what’s happening in my life.
Limbo? Purgatory? What karmic harm have I done to deserve this? What are we supposed to be learning from this, the worst start in 57 years combined with the ownership woes? My past two years, like Liverpool’s last two seasons, could have been better. It wouldn’t take much to improve upon our performance. When I look at the probable new owners, I think they must be a slight upgrade compared to the two we have now. Again, it doesn’t take much to be an improvement. So, are we just desperate for change right now?
If my emotional tides run parallel to those of Liverpool, then we’re all nursing a dully broken heart. It’s a breaking that has happened so often that we’re numb or turned to zombies from the steady stream of bad news. We’ve become so used to it that we carry on in spite of the broken bits and shards that stab us, fresh, every few days. My own broken heart has been slowly splintered over the course of a year or more, a heart broken on terms not my own; another’s time frame, another’s wishes—me the stand-by, waiting to see what happens. No control. Just like how I feel watching my team struggle on the pitch and off.
It’s the lingering, bad break up, if I can compare our club’s troubles with such a thing. We have owners who will never love or understand us; for some fans, they are foreigners but for all fans they are foreign to the sport we love. Yet, we can’t shake them. They are jeopardizing our future but we can’t get rid of them. They’ve controlled the situation long enough to make a go of it. They’re selfish: it’s greed and hubris standing in the way in the now. It’s standing in the way of real fans’ love. I’m not that naive, every relationship has a dynamic, a contract of behaviors—precedents set and accepted or rejected. What about when you love—really love—and you can’t walk away?
We’re stuck. As Liverpool fans in love with our team, we’re stuck. If the court rules the sale valid and we’re sold to NESV, then we will see how it goes. If, god forbid, the ruling is in favor of Hicks and Gillett, then I will still be in Liverpool next year at Championship matches as much in love with my team as ever. Yet I am still looking for a happier ending. When you believe in something, or someone, you want the good outcome. You search for the positive result. Have I done enough? Have I expressed how I feel? Was I understood? Did it matter?
I’m impressed with how different groups and people have attempted to apply their talents or bring insight to the matter: Spirit of Shankly, Mike Jefferies, Des Kelly (a man and a cigar—a perspective I appreciate even if I don’t exactly agree) and every fan who agonizes day in and day out. I’d be lost if not for my own friend with whom I text and trade reports; the connection is invaluable. We are lucky to have community. This year I’ve met more wonderful Liverpool fans and witnessed the Carragher testimonial which was one of the best times of my life. That’s the glimmer for me. If you’ve read my other essays, you know hope does not come easy to me. But I still rise early on weekend mornings, even if, lately, I watch the matches alone, avoiding some harsh realities outside my door.
My heart is broken right now. In so many ways. And, maybe naively, I still believe in the person who broke it…or the team who needs to show up no matter the odds. Right now, we’re facing some seriously harsh realities and we lack passion on the pitch. I miss that passion which has always defined Liverpool and will trump any of the hard truths and legal rulings in the days ahead. I believe that passion will return and I’ll never give up on it.
“You should be ashamed,” hollered a woman in a white Stetson with a diamond encrusted “W” glinting off the front of it. “You’re unpatriotic,” she concluded. My sister and I heard that sentence over and over when we attended the second inauguration of George W. Bush. That was politics. That was Washington, DC circa 2004. Flash forward to the present and I’ve heard nearly the same argument tossed my way when it comes to the World Cup.
Not being a fan of the U.S. national team has made me a target of disdain, ire and not a few rants on just how “wrong” I am, and that there’s no other country in the world where the citizens aren’t zealots about the national team.
I could fake it—I could chant, “U.S.A, U.S.A.,” with other fans, but it would turn my ambivalence into resentment. Note that my feeling for the team is ambivalence—not hate, or even strong dislike—as I have never felt connected to its players, fans or style. I am not disappointed if the U.S. team does well, nor do I plan to root against them in the World Cup. But for a country of people that cannot get behind the simplest of human necessities, such as healthcare for its citizens, it strikes me as peculiar that when a sporting event is on, we’re suddenly all supposed to care about America. The messages are muddled: If you’re an American, you need to care about sports, get behind the team and be a part of the collective—but you can’t care about your neighbor.
As a Liverpool fan, my interest naturally is in our players’ performances, and I plan to keep a close eye on their national teams. However, even if I didn’t support Liverpool, Spain would still be my favorite. The passion and prowess they’ve displayed on the field is undeniable and watching them over the past few years has been enjoyable. They are the Cup favorites for a reason. Similarly, I enjoyed watching the Netherlands in the last Euro and I’m a fan of Dirk Kuyt, so those matches will also be on at my house. One of the most anticipated matches, featuring three Liverpool players, is Saturday’s between the U.S. and England.
To root for either the U.S. or England would feel false. I must admit to a preference for Capello as a manager even though comparing him to Bob Bradley feels somehow unfair. Capello has a pedigree unavailable to American managers. The caliber of players also seems to weigh heavily in England’s favor, if I didn’t know how easy it is for England to underachieve and for the U.S. to defend its way through matches. Instead of a team, I’ll root for the game of football tomorrow; here’s to an inspired match.
Even writing this, I feel an overwhelming sense of “meh.” Why am I still unconvinced? Does it even matter? Does it really mean I am somehow wrong and unpatriotic?
Enter last Thursday’s U.S. flag burning by fellow Liverpool supporters, and then enter an article on the Fox Sports website by Robert Burns. Burns suggests that because two Liverpool fans burned the American flag, U.S. fans should “rally like never before behind our players and give them the support that those in England believe is beyond our grasp.” Granted, the flag burning incident is an embarrassment; I shuddered when reading about it. But I also thought it an incredibly stupid, uncreative and lazy gesture on the part of those fans. I also dislike “Yanks out” and the nonsense cowboy slogans. When visiting Liverpool in March, I must admit to experiencing a heightened awareness and discomfort with my nationality when interacting with fans. I never felt that way in the past. It was an “Oh no, I am one of them” type of feeling that usually portends some sort of altercation. If I am one of them—an American—that must mean I am not fully behind Liverpool, not a real fan.
Being a Liverpool fan has exposed me to more types of people—races and nationalities—and football is the language we share. How many Americans even know what Hicks and Gillet have done to Liverpool Football Club? Burns’s article doesn’t even say that was the day the “mutual consent” deal was announced for Rafa leaving the Club. I can’t imagine Texas Rangers fans are too happy with how their team has been managed and, living in Chicago, it’s unfathomable how fans would react if foreign owners decimated one of our beloved teams as Hicks and Gillet seemed determined to do to Liverpool. So to Robert Burns I’d offer that context is everything and this isn’t some chest-pounding rally behind America moment.
When reflecting back to the inauguration in 2004, another incident stands out: an anarcho-punk-styled (I’m surprised he didn’t have a Crass patch sewn to the butt flap on his pants) young man strode up to us screaming “No blood for your oil war!” My sister and I looked at each other and practically broke into laughter as we, in tandem, said, “we’re on your side!” The young man ended up apologizing and hugging us over this case of mistaken identity. We’ve concluded that he judged us as being on the other side because we were nondescript in our black winter coats and hats, or because we didn’t look like him or a majority of the protestors. In spite of walking in the crowd with them, we still represented the “other” and certainly didn’t fit in with Bush supporters either.
It’s strange to be floating in that same limbo again, uncertain of how to navigate the space between belonging and not belonging, of how to provide satisfying answers to myself or anyone else about loyalties to club or country. Should I have to? Will I always be an outsider?
For the Liverpool fans that burned the U.S. flag, I can only yawn and say, “poorly done.” And for anyone in the U.S. calling for a rally over two people burning a flag or to those hollering at me or anyone who shares my feelings, I’d like you to come up with a better argument than “because it’s your country.” Can we quit predicating arguments on nationalistic obligation and start talking about “the world’s game”? I’ve been passive in many of the conversations on this subject, I’ve sat back and listened all the while wondering if the person even watched any U.S. qualifiers or could name more than a couple of players. I want to hear from someone that actually loves the team and is truly excited to watch them for any reason other than “it’s my country.” Talk to me about the style of play, convince me of their merit, and prove my ambivalence wrong. Or better yet, maybe the team will.
When I went to England in November 2008 to see Liverpool FC play a Champions League match against Marseilles, that triumvirate of questions began most of my conversations. At home, I tend to get the latter two questions, in one form or another, often enough. While I hope the woman question is easily answered, the how and why I’ve come to being a sports fan is less clear.
I played sports growing up and certainly watched my share of college (American) football games and plenty of college and major league baseball games. My grandfather, and indeed my father’s whole side of the family are largely Cubs fans, but I never truly followed a team. I do remember watching the World Cup with my sister and a neighborhood friend in the 90s, but still, I mostly listened to music, read, and concentrated on my studies.
In the summer of 2002 I completed my undergraduate studies and got a job in the music industry that required a move to Chicago. That summer, I went to see the Chicago White Sox play. Something happened. I don’t know but I’m sure there was a click and from that moment, I started to attend and watch more and more White Sox games. Frankly, baseball saved my life. Moving to a new town can be lonely and, as I’ve heard it said many a time and repeated to new Chicagoans myself, “Chicago is hard.” It’s not a town that cuts you any breaks for any reason. But it gave me baseball and summers of riding my bike down to sit in the 500 level by myself and watch a team shape up over a few years to become the 2005 World Series Champions. It got me through difficult times. I love the game and I love the White Sox (sorry, grandpa, I know that makes you roll in your grave). What does baseball have to do with footie? Nothing for most people, but it’s the backdrop for how I came to sports fandom later than most.
A few years ago I found myself poking around watching bits and pieces of football (soccer). I also learned that a good friend of mine actually watched a lot of English Premiere League matches, and another friend was following the MLS, EPL, La Liga and other European leagues. And another friend and another until I happened to meet a Liverpool fan who, when I mentioned my burgeoning footie interest, invited me to watch my first Liverpool match.
So, I’ve not been a Liverpool fan long, which makes me feel a bit chagrined. I wasn’t lucky to grow up loving this team and watching them win League titles. I didn’t experience the tragedies of Hillsborough or Heysel. Although I know some of the club’s history and take it upon myself to learn more and more, I am still a novice. I won’t even buy myself a Liverpool shirt until I feel I’ve earned it and that time has yet to come.
What is plain to me is that football is the most amazing sport and Liverpool is my team. With most questions in life I hesitate and search for an answer or deeper meaning; however, in this I know one true, simple thing: I love Liverpool Football Club. The only comparison I can conjure is what people must feel when they meet the person with whom they will spend the rest of their life—the chemistry, spark, certainty and love that come with this knowledge. Except this has to better. Bone-deep, this love wakes you up at 5am before the alarm to trudge through sleet and snow just to sit around other people who have this same passion and wordlessly understand why you jump from your seat because you can see the goal coming or, all too often this season, sullenly hold your head in your hands.
There have been many heavy sighs this season, none heavier than the recent loss to Portsmouth. Several fans and I sat around for hours after that match lamenting it. Many a lifelong fan has begun to say that they really don’t feel it’s ever been this bad. Every fan has their own criticism and ideas about how the team is playing, how Rafa is doing, how the owners have been detrimental; everyone is searching for an answer, a place to lay blame, and hoping things will get better. Portsmouth was an emotional match for fans and not in the typical way. I’ve read that match described as the “low point” but with many games remaining, I think fans fear their own sense of resignation about this season and are trying to fight against it specifically when the media write about selling Torres and Gerrard, and Hicks Jr. makes inappropriate comments to an inquiring fan. No one wants this and to shore each other up we quote from and remind one another “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The truth is I’ve never been one for hope. There have been many days, after watching a match, where I find myself reciting lines from “Those Winter Sundays,” by Robert Hayden: “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices.” Love for Liverpool has, at times, been a lonely endeavor this year. So, I don’t know that I carry hope in my heart. In fact, I have a tattoo on my arm that says “No Hope.” This isn’t because I am a negative, cynical person, it’s because I believe so fervently that we make things happen. We work, we sweat, we cry and continue to try until we do whatever it is that has to be done.
Somehow, Liverpool has become my exception. Whatever it is that sends shivers down my arms when I hear the Kop signing “YNWA,” I think it must be the hope of so many people who also have shivers and long for the team to do well. So many people who have grown up with the club, the people seeing their first match, families, friends, everyone just needing to be there for the team as the team is for them. It’s for fellow fans that I’ve learned to hope because I understand what it means each week, especially in such a difficult year. Sometimes Liverpool is the one good thing in a week overflowing with worry.
When we lost to Portsmouth, I looked at one of my friends afterward and said, “Liverpool and I are having the same season.” Good people leaving, layoffs (let’s call them bad management decisions), coming close but not close enough, financial woes, knowing your potential but feeling like you just can’t perform or get that one lucky break to start the turnaround; that’s been my year. The other thing about this year is that I have weathered and continue to weather it well, better than I thought I would and for much longer than I thought I would have to. I don’t have to hope that Liverpool will do the same, I know they will. I know the fans will because they are the people singing songs like “We All Dream of a Team of Carraghers,” which is an appreciation of the values of true passionate loyalty and hard work. When I was at Anfield last year, “YNWA” gave me shivers, but “We All Dream of a Team of Carraghers” is the song that made me well up.
You know what they say about hard times, right? Hard times are hard. They also wane. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that no matter what happens you’ll still love something as much or more than you did the year before. It feels like a filling up on the inside, a sense of fullness that I admit seems out of place for me to attribute to a sport but, at the same time, is inextricably part of who I am.
I’m an American, yup. A woman, check. And I really like footie. Love it. If baseball saved my life at the beginning of the decade, then I think it may have saved me for Liverpool. Not that I don’t absolutely still love and follow baseball but it’s Liverpool that’s teaching me how to live.