I have patience

There’s a great song by Mark Mulcahy called “I have patience.” It’s full of rage and wit and stubborn love. This is the chorus:

The things I love don’t bring me joy
What I want, I want to destroy
I have patience, I have patience

How much distress is ok following a nightmare result? How do you straighten out what is of your life, and therefor worthy of pain, and what isn’t? I feel like I’ve made some big mistakes in this department. I’ve invited troublesome foreigners into my life, I’ve invited phantoms. I get upset (very upset) by the mistakes of the millionaire children of another continent. Worst of all, their mistakes are played out at dawn on Saturday morning.

But I have patience, ridiculous patience.

Phantom limbs

A few hours after a loss I get this aching feeling. It’s kind of like a phantom limb; I can’t shake the sensation and at the same time it’s not attached to any real part of me. After a win it’s similar- I feel effusion of well-being, but the source is a weird amalgamation of my interior and exterior worlds.

If your team wins a championship, you are not by proxy also a champion. You’re just a fan of champions. Similarly, if your team is relegated, you are not a bigger loser than you already are. There is a huge element of untruth, of fiction and daydreaming, at work in your relationship with a sport and a team. Your reactive emotions are, on principle, unbalanced.

I’m happy when my team wins because that’s the natural consequence of liking a team. I’m unhappy when they lose. Since I’m  unable to undo my passion for my team, the whole formula gets reductive: a win makes me happy because a win makes me happy. I see no personal benefit in winning, no utilitarian gain, just fleeting happiness, and in losses I am charged some hefty melancholy. I’ve made an internal transaction that I can’t take back, and which is circular.

Bergkamp and Jonathan Wilson on Creating Time

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For my birthday my brother gave me Jonathan Wilson’s (author of Inverting the Triangle) newish book on goalkeepers, The Outsider. It’s good, a history churning with riffs on how fundamentally weird the position is, and how odd the characters inhabiting it often are. He begins it by recounting his personal best moment sporting moment, which he had while in goal for a hockey game.

“I remember thinking, as the ball rose to my right, that I ought at least to dive for it even if he were outside the D. Everything seemed to be happening very slowly. I even remember wondering what the rule was if he had shot from outside the D and the ball glanced in off my stick. I could also see the ball, its trajectory taking it a little above the stick. Apparently having all the time in the world, I moved my wrist, angling the stick to intercept the ball. The intersection of post and bar came abruptly into view and, about six inches in front of the top corner of the net, the ball slapped into the meat of the stick…

I could see the ball spinning loose and, for a split second, nobody seemed to be moving towards it. In that moment there was a glorious stillness, a silence.”

It’s not a sensation that frequents his sporting life (he admits to this being the first of a total of two such moments). He goes on:

“As the Ajax coach David Endt put it, ‘The second of the greats last longer than those of normal people.’ There is evidence to suggest the memory of control is false, that it is an invention of the brain to explain a reflex reaction that begins in the muscles themselves. Wherever it originates, that sensation of control over fractional changes happening extraordinarily quickly seems to lie at the heart of sporting excellence.”

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David Bergkamp (alias God) has written a memoir called Stillness and Speed. Amy Lawrence interviewed him in the Guardian. She writes:

“Control is so much his obsession that he is completely frank when he says he prefers the first touch that started any of his most memorable goals than the strike that finished them. Others might say that, but it is doubtful they really mean it. Bergkamp does. The glory, for him, is all about control and touch.

Can that be taught? ‘The basics for me is the first touch,’ he says, as if a perfect first touch is some kind of alchemy. ‘First touch in football is so important. If you talk about Mesut Özil people say he is not marked properly, he always has a lot of space but he has got that space because he can create space by his vision and his first touch. With that you create your own time.'”

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The Arsenal-Norwich game this past weekend is going to be remembered for its great goals. It wasn’t a particularly great game, and Arsenal were not as in control as the 4-1 scoreline might suggest, but the goals were the luminous type that do seem to occur in an elastic time. The seconds bend, the players understand exactly the geometry of their positions in a way that seems, as you watch, impossible. Then the replays begin and us spectators get a secondhand dose of slowed time- and the replays will continue, and continue.

 

 

The Portland Timbers are on a roll, so I write a column on losing

I can’t help myself. The season is wrapping up, the Timbers are somewhat improbably top of the conference, the Sounders are imploding, and what do I do? I concentrate on losing. I think you can only properly enjoy victory if you have a thorough understanding of defeat and failure- and I suppose I mean that categorically, across all life venues.

When your team is in a rut, when the style played is best simply labeled as “mistakes,” you dream about victory. Similarly, when your team is cruising, when they seem to have a permanent grace, you should dream about defeat.

In Praise of Juan Mata

Philippe Auclair has written a great old-fashioned piece in praise of Juan Mata. It’s ever so slightly dated (already) as it was written before Mourinho started playing him more regularly, but it’s spot-on. I really dislike Chelsea- the club is such a comprehensive metaphor for the decadent aspects of the modern game/business- but have found it impossible to dislike Mata. He’s a classy guy.

Arsenal 2 Napoli 0: Old feeling back again?

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The Arsenal looked better in yesterday’s game against Napoli than they have in years. The first half they played brilliant attacking soccer, in the second they played intelligent, patient defensive soccer, and were so confident that they actually looked relaxed- not a sensation recently twinned with Arsenal defense.

Napoli took the suckerpunch of the first 20 minutes hard, and looked disconnected and limp for the duration. This was an excellent side comprehensively outplayed… and the particular flavor of delight this brings is something I haven’t tasted as a fan in quite a while.

Özil was phenomenal. Ramsey, playing in the wide role in which he struggled a year ago, kept on being Ramsey, the guy announcers feel moved to describe as “swashbuckling” at least once a game. Flamini and Arteta were fantastic… actually everyone was good. It was, I think, a revelation of a performance, and while I doubt its heights will be reached frequently by the team, I was desperately happy to see where I’d been wrong in appraisal of certain players.

I always thought Ramsey would come good, but I never thought Giroud would be as good as he’s been lately- I thought he was a solid player, a good second choice, a guy you could rely on to put in consistent hard work, but his all-around game has made a massive leap from last year. He’s a bully, he has finesse, and he scores. It’s awesome. And despite the good streak at the end of last season, I didn’t think the defense, particularly the center backs, were capable of such an assured performance in the face of an attack like Napoli’s.

And the team isn’t near full strength: Cazorla, Walcott, the Ox sidelined, and Gnabry, a player everyone expected to be totally peripheral, has already begun to prove himself.

Wenger must be over joyed. More wins are on their way.