THE UNLIKELY FAN, VOLUME SEVEN - EMOTIONAL DRAIN-O
By the 87th minute, I was planning my escape.
I was at a house party, different from the one I went to for the USA-England match, but with many of the same people. Lenny, the guy who wore his England shirt to that first game, was not in attendance, perhaps because he couldn't locate an Algeria strip in time.
It was a lovely affair, though as with any of these events in America, there was still a fair amount of people learning the drill. More than half arrived before kickoff, so that was considered a win. I had checked with my host beforehand to make sure that he would even be starting the game on time no matter what; when he said he would "unless a lot of people are late, then I'll pause it for them" I thanked him for his offer of hospitality and told him I wouldn't be able to attend. To his credit, he then said he would definitely start the match on time. His eyeroll at my neurosis was barely perceptible.
I had arrived with considerable confidence. I truly felt there was no way the US wouldn't win the match. But as the morning wore on, my steadfastness eroded.
The goal that the US had called back (for offside, on another horrendously erroneous call by the officials) didn't even bother me that much. It was a good sign, wasn't it? Creating an early chance like that?
Then England taking the lead against Slovenia, opening further possibility of the US being eliminated, didn't shake my conifdence too much.
But there's only so much a man can take.
As attack after attck after attack fizzled, I began to recall all the times soccer has broken my heart. It's hard to quantify why exactly, but soccer heartbreak is different than the childhood heartbreaks from US sports. I guess because the tension is held for so long, and your team is so rarely thumped while so often locked in a tight matchup... you are able to stave off the acceptance of the loss for longer. Which, once it comes, makes its arrival so very hard to take.
By the 80th minute, my emotional muscle memory was stirring. Memories of late goals scored against my teams subliminally gripped me as I began to prepare for- if not yet fully accept- the possibility that it was all about to go to shit.
Four years of waiting. The in-between emotional highs of qualifying, and of beating Spain. Successfully taking the high road after being denied the comeback against Slovenia, focusing only on the task at hand. All of it, I began to realize, may actually have been a colossal waste of time. Worse: I should have known better.
This is when I had to start to plan my escape. It wasn't so much that I thought it was over- it was that if it was going to go badly, I had to have an exit strategy. This was a nice house, with nice things, and children. This was not a place for my tantrum, be it angry or tearful, I couldn't yet know.
Again, I had not lost hope, per se. It's just that, if somehow the US (or Slovenia, for that matter) did manage to score, I certainly didn't have to plan my happiness. I did have to plan the methods by which I would obscure my infantile rage.
By the 90th minute, my eyes were still fixed to the screen(s), but my background Termintaor scroll was measuring the small areas between friends and pieces of furniture that were blocking my path to the door, surveying the exact space I would need to weave my way out in quicksilver fashion, preferably with a quick thank you to my host and hostess. I was NOT going to freak out in their house. I. Was. Not.
And then... I didn't have to worry anymore.
We. All. Went. Apeshit.
And in a matter of seconds, a complete pendulum swing from Heartbreak Prep to Unbridled Jubilation.
Alex Ferguson said it so well: "Football, eh? Bloody hell!"
On to the second round. It wasn't a waste. It was worth every step of the way.
- Brendan Hunt
twitter.com/theunlikelyfan, © Brendan Hunt, 2010