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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.

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  1. Hebb

    August 27, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Luckily I was holed up in the mountains of Big Bear for the game and only shared my tears with a single mate (despite being an Arsenal fan he was sympathetic to my pain).

    The one thing that drove me nuts was the slow crawl up through the middle by the defenders. It seemed to waste a huge amount of time. Villa did a great job shutting down Johnson, and without a strong midfielder, Liverpool had very few counter attacks (unlike Villa).

    My hope is that over the next year the team starts to work well together and we go into 2010-2011 with a dangerous starting 11.

    I also pray that they don’t knock their heads silly for the rest of the year. Its starting to look like a World War film on the pitch with all the bandages, black eyes, and stitches. Maybe the whole team should wear the Cech Hat.

  2. Lyle

    August 26, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Reds ain’t winning the league this year. Sad to say. I’m a Fulham fan, so don’t have any Big Four bias against the Pool. I also appreciate what Rafa Benitez has tried to do at Liverpool. I’m even sympathetic to Hicks and Gillette. For the sake the owners, Benitez, Torres, and the crazy Liverpool faithful I kind of would like to see them win the league once, but I don’t see it happening this year. Hopefully they’ll just stay up in the Big Four and not get relegated out of it.

  3. KeithC

    August 25, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Couple of points. First, it’s Stiliyan Petrov. Martin Petrov plays for Manchester Arabia. Second, Nicky Shorey hit the Villa corner that led to Davies’ goal.

    Other than that, nice article

  4. CA_backpacker

    August 25, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I feel the same intense emotion watching the L’pool games…not a relaxing experience!

    Regarding L’pool this season, is anybody surprised? I predicted we would be in dire straights without Alonso, and here we are, with Lucas missing the passes Alonso used to make, and scoring on our own goal. We’re going to be lucky to finish in the top half of the table, and it really hurts to say that. We aren’t deep, and Alonso provided the critical glue that connected the midfield and Torres…

  5. NewtonHeath

    August 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm over here lately. would be interesting & make sense if fans from other teams posted up as well though. but for now, with just posts about the bindippers, it’s a problem.

    mufc the religion


    • The Gaffer

      August 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm

      NH, EPL Talk is expanding so if you know of any football writers who are interested in covering the beautiful game, please put them in touch with me.

      The Gaffer

  6. Gaz

    August 25, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    I’m the same way at the bar. At home, my wife ignores me for a bit and my dog tries to console me as if I’m morally wounded (it could have something to do with all the screaming). 🙂

    As for this game. It was gut wrenching. I think I’d rate this worse than the Spurs loss.

    Someone above said this and I think it is exactly right…

    They just didn’t seem to have any passion. Where’s the Liverpool I love that can perform a miracle at any moment (or at least look it)? There were moments of fight… but even at 2-1 they seemed to be just accepting the loss.

  7. bindipper

    August 25, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    This was one of the best liverpool games i’ve seen in a while. The red thugs, cheating their way to a humiliating loss. Mascherano punching people, $tevie G diving and lunging his way to disgrace, I tell you it was art out there. And Rafa, oh poor, stupid Rafa. I wonder how he will pin this one on Sir Alex? And the rarest feat of all – the Villans all got home with hubcaps intact!
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  8. kiko

    August 25, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I didnt get to watch the match fully, but i switched it on wen i got back from work and was gobsmacked to see we were 0-2 down at home. The end result was even worse 1-3, but seeing Liverpool play like some weird foreign team was devastating. They never got heated up, and worst of all we gave em two goals, and we had 41 shots on target. Is it me or is Torres complaining alot nowadays to the ref instead of being pro and gettin on with it. If we lose the league no fan can blame Rafa, its the STINKIN YANKEES we need to boycott. If they gave Rafa enough money to buy two more world class players we would be flying, no wonder Rafa is keeping Babel and Voronin. This is very very bad. Those of you who say we shouldnt be worried are wrong, I mean Chelsea are looking scary, Arsenal dominating and Man City are actually winnin their away games. Its time we put are hearts into it boys…..

  9. jeneria

    August 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I know how you feel when watching Liverpool. They are my team and I live and die by them from August to May every year. My husband is a champ about watching the games with me and knowing when to talk to me and when to let me seethe in a white hot ball of pain. Yesterday was one of the pain days.

    The pub we like to go to to watch the matches (when I can’t get them at home) is a Liverpool pub, but all the bar tenders are nasty Manc bastards who not only mock LIverpool, but are slow about refilling our drinks as well.

  10. Mac Ingram

    August 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Ive been reading your articles and never commented on them but i felt like i needed to on this one. When i read this one i felt like you were describing me yesterday. I had so much hope going into the match yesterday and came out of it with a sense of what did we do wrong and how could this match have turned out so badly. The only thing thats going to get me through this depression is watching the game against bolton….and yes i do believe our title hopes are still strongly intact. We cant jump ship 3 games into the season. Good article though…im glad im not the only one whose day gets ruined after a loss like that.

  11. Matthew N

    August 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve spent two years trying to get my best mate to watch Liverpool. The first two matches I get him to watch (Spurs and Villa) were losses. Thanks boys.

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