Tuesday, March 06, 2007

the joys of infidelity

I think it was during the World Cup that there was some heated on-line discussion about the ethics of cheering more than one team. Does it brand you a turncoat? a fair-weather friend? a dilletante? Shallow? The consensus here at a pretty move at the time was that we, as Americans, are almost necessarily youthful in our football passions, and therefore free to throw our love around liberally and without guilt as if it were hippy-days in the Haight. Something akin to that. We're in love with the lovely goal, the graceful maneuver, the beautiful moment, unabashedly so, and will sing the praises of such, regardless of the color of the kit involved.

Still, we have our favorites. None of us shy from trumpeting our collective Barca-love, two-thirds of us are proud to wear the claret-and-blue of the West Ham supporter, and I have always harbored a quiet but passionate amour for Liverpool. In the wake of the West Ham v Liverpool FA Cup final and today's Barca v Liverpool Champions knockout, I can tell you this: there are few pleasures greater than watching two teams you genuinely love vying for an important win. It blends ecstasy and melancholy in the sweetest possible ways. One knows every man on the pitch well enough to enjoy heightened emotions at nearly every turn.

Much as I hate a Barca loss, Liverpool made me proud today. They emerged from the tunnel with the aggregate edge but the underdog's uncertainty, and how many sides (I'm looking at you, Arsenal) would have locked down into an ugly night of pure defense and playing it safe? Not these fine Liverpudlians. They came out walloping and kept it up; it was only by the whimsy and caprice of the Football Gods that Riise didn't score in those first minutes. How many was it? Three times he blasted a beauty toward the goal to see it deflected by the bar, or a defender, or possibly the invisible hand of the Football God? Same for Sissoko's long 32nd-minute shot off the bar, and, for that matter, Ronaldinho's, later on. The Gods were having great laughs up their godlike sleeves on the touchline all night.

This is the first I've seen of Liverpool this year, and if I was initially uncertain about the new backfield, they set my mind at ease within minutes. Those fellows are lovely. And talk about a great backfield: when Rijkaard pulled Thuram--Thuram!--to send on Gudjohnsen, it was a stroke of genius. It didn't even feel like a risk to me, because he still had Marquez and the Armored Saint watching the goal. (Did you see Puyol clear the end of that fierce Liverpool attack right off the line? Classic.) And it paid off, almost immediately, but not enough.

Therein lies the melancholy in the mix. What will become of our beloved Barca? Will this beautiful squad disentangle one from another and dissipate across the hemispheres, each man wearing different colors? During the pre-match when the starting eleven flashed on the screen I said to my mother (who, thank God, has ESPN), "You will never see a better starting line-up than that, if you were to watch football every day for the rest of your life." Then I thought of the fellows waiting in the wings to come on (Giuly! Zambrotta! Gudjohnsen! Gio!) and got real chills. So why did the life never manifest? Messi was penned in (artfully, I must say) beneath some skintight marking by Arbeloa. Eto'o never found his way to that sweet spot up front, and neither Deco nor Ronaldinho roused up to full force. Early on I was nursing a theory that Ronaldinho was playing possum, lulling his normally fierce markers into inattention, but if so, the plan never came to fruition.

In any case, there it is. Barca is out; Liverpool continues. I mourn and I exult. The King has fallen; long live the King. My life is a happier one for having the opportunity to watch these fine sides play, and I steadfastly recommend refusing to follow only one.

1 comment:

Zach Dundas said...

I think multiple loyalties are fine and dandy for us foreigners, even within the same league. After all, we're not beholden to whatever class, culture or caste-system paradigms shape the born-and-bred supporters of any European club. Maybe the rule of thumb when you're following a foreign league should be: pick one major team that, for whatever reason, resonates with you as your steady date; and one smaller, scrappier, quirkier teamt be your sideline fling. E.g.: though I've pledged Liverpool in Premier League, I've also been looking out for Reading. In Italy I dig Roma but also harbor some warm feelings for Fiorentina. In MLS, which counts as a "foreign" league for us neglected Cascadians, I've always followed DC United (though I wouldn't call myself a "supporter," really), but I've lately nurtured some affection for Chicago.

Of course, there are some places you just can't go. You can't like both Barca and Real Madrid. You couldn't be a Liverpool AND Man United supporter, or cavort with both Roma and Lazio. You can't two-time DC with the New York Red Bulls any more than you could be a fan of both Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers. Even in a world of free love, there must be standards.