Fan Diary #4: The Football Depression
I have football-curious friends who want to come to the pub and watch Liverpool with me. So they say. See, they think watching Liverpool with me will be like watching regular season MLB, NBA or NFL games with me. That I’ll be conversational. That I’ll crack a lot of jokes. That I’ll make plenty of eye contact. That I’ll be that fun lovable guy who impersonates inane announcers, makes dirty innuendos and eases the tension by mixing up sports jargon on purpose like saying, “This would be a good time for an interception…” during a tight baseball game.
What they don’t understand is when watching Liverpool, I’m a wound-up ball of unmitigated tension. Beer could easily spout three feet in the air as I squeeze my pint glass into the size of a half-pint glass. My friends might look over and wonder, “Did Ethan get shorter?” as I scuff a trench three feet deep into the pub’s hardwood floor. Okay, if the score goes to 3 or 4 to nil, then I’ll probably be good for regular conversation, jokes and eye-contact. But until then my noises and banter will be spread out and nervous and my gaze will be locked upon the television set.
I’ll have to explain that every league match is the equivalent of a post-season match in the American sports they are used to sharing with me. That every point that falls out of Liverpool’s clutches from August to May reaches out with its tiny little hands (that’s right I’m personifying a league point) and sticks a tiny little knife in my back and twists it. Right now I have six tiny little knives in my back. And it’s not that theraputic acupuncture effect. It’s that Spanish Inquisition torture device effect.
Whether they know it or not, they definitely don’t want to come down when Liverpool face Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea (with Manchester City threatening to join that list). Win or lose, I will be so wound up during those matches the presence of friends will stress me out further because I’ll also worry about whether or not they are having a good football spectating experience while I frett and fume. For those big matches I have no extra focus. It’s like when I dragged my housemates to see Watchmen because I love the graphic novel and I’d been talking about this movie ever since the first trailer came out. But I’d built it up so much, I still don’t know if I enjoyed the film or not because I spent the duration studying Greg and Meghan’s visages, worried they were having a terrible experience and were blaming me. Yes, I should have pre-screened that one.
I want to bring newcomers to a match Liverpool are likely to win. Hopefully one with multiple goals. Then they can see the roar of the pub when Stevie, El Nino, Dirk and Yossi bang the ball home. They can hear us sing our favorite songs full blast. (While Boston’s Liverpool supporters still sing when we’re losing, it’s more sonorous and gripping when our hearts aren’t sinking to the bottoms of our chest cavities.) If they want to come back after that, then I won’t be as devastated if they witness a draw or a loss – I’ll be devastated by the draw or the loss mind you, but I’ll accept that newcomers are bound to see this eventually no matter what. I just want that first experience to be one at a pub full of elated fans, bursting with pride, lingering for hours, ordering rounds and recounting the best parts of the match.
Then it’ll be easier to explain why I’m there in the morning every weekend.
I would have thought Liverpool v Villa would have been the ideal first match for an introduction to Liverpool. I’m thankful I didn’t coax anybody down there with me.
Villa had a brilliant start to their season last year, but they’ve started off this campaign with a shocking 0-2 loss to Wigan. Before yesterday Villa haven’t beaten Liverpool in 15 consecutive league encounters. The last encounter was a 5-0 thrashing at Anfield.
So I was sure we’d win. I was sure we’d win by three or four goals. I wasn’t truly confident about Spurs away (although I entered that day with untold bravado – it’s called overcompensating), but I was beyond certain about Villa at home.
As it was a Monday afternoon broadcast, the pub wasn’t too packed. A dozen familiar faces and a handful I didn’t recognize.
The start felt promising. Torres found Yossi’s head in the box within a minute, but Yossi couldn’t put it away. Then 9 minutes in bore three great chances on goal in a matter of seconds. During a goalmouth melee the ball fell to Torres who looked sure to pull the trigger but couldn’t get the touch he wanted. Then Yossi tried to back-heel-volley it in. Then Friedel got a foot to Gerrard’s point-blank attempt. How did that not go in??
My corner of the bar was a writhing mass of ulcerous supporters clutching our red faces in triple disbelief.
Still – Liverpool were attacking right out the gate. As with the Stoke match, the chances were being sought out. I still felt sure the goals would eventually come in abundance. Keep Villa on the back foot until you find that hole in the dam. Score one. Then they’ll have to attack us and we’ll eat up the space they leave in their wake.
But problems quickly emerged. After a decisive start, Liverpool’s passing and movement got really sloppy. Routine exchanges turned into ugly dispossesion. Fluid runs gave way to choppy scampering. Villa were playing deep waiting for a chance to counter-attack and we gave it away again and again. And we knew as well as Martin O’Neill: one or two spot kicks could make all the difference for the visitors.
Sure enough Martin Petrov goes down 34 minutes in and Ashley Young steps to the dead ball. His blast finds Lucas’s head (!!!!) who, trying to clear the ball, knocks it in. A Lucas Leiva own-goal. Grrrrrr.
Liverpool spent the rest of the half looking rattled. We were only a goal down and Villa never looked likely to score from open play, but the Reds simply fell apart. The passing was nonexistant. The chances were dried up.
Just get to half-time, I said. This is all in your heads! Rafa needed to collect them. Remind them they were the better side. Tell them to get the job done. Just get to half-time!
Then as we waited for the final whistle to blow, Villa won a corner. I swear I have a heart-attack every time I watch Liverpool defend a set piece. And Villa reminded me why. Young launches the ball in and finds Davies. Carragher jumps to defend but Torres, who was in a better position to block, can’t get any air with Carra jumping over him. Davies ball flies past Reina. Villa are two up.
I cling to optimism in the second half. We were 2-0 down to Manchester City at half-time last season. We came back to win that one. This was possible. A good half-time talk and three second half goals. I really believed this. I forced myself to.
Watching a match where you’re down by multiple goals, the clock becomes all the more imposing. When you’re down by one, it is simply a game clock. When you are down by two it becomes a time-left-for-a-miracle counter. You keep asking yourself: Is half an hour time enough for a miracle? Is twenty minutes time enough for a miracle? Is ten?
On sixty-nine minutes my lager caught up to me. Friedel had just pushed away Gerrard’s attempt. Seemed like a safe time to run to the men’s room. I did my business and when I came out I could tell something was festering. I stopped at the nearest television rather than making my way back to my corner of the bar. Insua breaks down the left and puts the ball into danger. It comes to Torres who is completely unmarked. Torres pops it into the bar and it bounces in. Goal!!!
This was it. I was certain we’d turn it around now.
But minutes later Gerrard desparately tries to strip Reo-Coker and completely misses the ball. Reo-Coker goes down. Penalty.
Pepe jumps the wrong way and Young puts Villa’s third goal away with 15 minutes remaining.
That’s it. The time-left-for-a-miracle counter was coughing and sputtering. I got superstitious and planted myself near the TV I was watching when Torres scored in case that made the difference. Liverpool pressed and Villa were content to stay back. There was no way through the barrier. Final score: 1-3.
A warm sunny New England day and I’m in a dark bar in Cambridge, surrounded by sunken faces. Tetteh says he’s not coming to the pub for a month because Liverpool lose whenever he comes out and they’ve won when he’s watched at home. Tim texts me from New Hampshire (where I’d watched the Stoke match) and tells me I need to drive up each weekend and watch the matches there so we’ll win again. Niall looks at his full Guinness and names it his sad beer. “I’m going to be sad for this beer,” he says. “Then I’m going to move on.” He’s a liar. He is sad for two more full beers and the walk to the subway.
I’m sitting there trying to figure it out. It was the starting eleven I would have played, but nobody looked up to it. After the opening minutes, there was no fire. No urgency. That Villa free kick should have made our side switch itself on. Not fall apart.
Last season, Liverpool lost two league matches all year. A slew of miserable draws killed the title ambitions, but they only lost twice and that gave us hope for the future. Now we’ve lost twice in the first three matches. Last season it took until Spring to suffer that feeling that title chances rested more on other sides screwing up rather than on Liverpool playing well. This season, that feeling is now.
It may not last. If Chelsea hit a rut. If Manchester United get done by another Burnley. If Arsenal lose enough midfield battles. All these things are highly possible and, like last season, this year has plenty more surprises in store. But for now I am consumed by the football depression. I’ll drink some tea. I’ll take a long walk. I’ll watch the second half of my Istanbul 2005 dvd. And I’ll hope we beat Bolton 7-0.
That’s all I can do this week. Football depression.