Category: Stabs in the dark

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.”


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.'”


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 Problem Bear

Picture 3Zlatan has struck again! He called Pep Guardiola a coward and etc, etc, etc: exactly the sort of thing we expect from Zlatan, not really news, just how Zlatan relates. It was enough, however, for Bayern Munich’s president Uli Hoeness to come to the defense of Pep, calling Zlatan a “Problembär.”

A fucking Problem Bear.

A Problem Bear! How dare Uli?!? And also, what is a Problem Bear? It sounds like quite a euphemism. However, it’s simply German and almost transcendently literal: a problem bear is a bear that creates problems. Specifically, Bear JJ1, aka Bruno, aka Beppo, aka Petzi. Yes, all this info is from wikipedia. The first brown bear on German soil in 170 years (this was 2006), and the killer of a guinea pig among other contemporary German beasts, like sheep. The Problem Bear was eventually shot dead after wrecking meek havoc, which is really more indicative of a German Bear Problem (ie they really should have more bears, as bears are wonderful, and would make Germany tougher) rather than the existence of a true Problem Bear.

Since Bruno’s demise, the word “Problembär” has apparently become something Germans call troublemakers of multiple stripes. Stirrers of the pot. Guinea pig slayers. Folks that flit from one situation to another, causing strife in each. Unnecessary rufflers of feathers. Zlatans.

This made me think: is Jose Mourinho a Problembär? I would say yes, but I’ve just decided to withhold personal usage of the term from anyone or anything I find consistently obnoxious. I’ve decided that the Problembär, in my sphere, isn’t so unbearably bitchy.  Here is Mourinho storming out of a pregame press conference because he was annoyed by a “why isn’t x on your team sheet” question. If the situation were taken totally seriously, one would have to ask some basic questions, like why do we have these press conferences? what on earth does anyone really hope to learn from this? isn’t this just about one game, plans for which the coach will reveal as little as possible? and the game doesn’t even happen today, but tomorrow? how bored, exactly, are these poor reporters? why doesn’t everyone storm out? why do we watch television?

But let’s skip the real questions, and continue on with the inane and the whimsical. The hubbub over team selection is of course related to Mourinho’s shunning of Juan Mata. For those of you that don’t obsessively follow the EPL, Mourinho has used Mata as a sub in league games and omitted him entirely from the squad against the derby game with Fulham. Mata has been Chelsea’s best player for the past two years, and is a fan favorite. Here‘s Michael Cox’s take, written before the Tottenham match.

It’s a situation that’s been brewing since Mourinho was announced as Chelsea’s next coach- I recall Mata was asked how he felt about his new coach, and in stark contrast to the enthusiasm of his team mates, he said that he’d wait and see. That was at the end of last season. The summer passed, Mata was not sold, the new season began, and he’s now second string. While there’s nothing wrong with a coach having preferences contrary to public opinion, or being ruthless with egos, I think the scenario illustrates the ludicrous misbalance in finances in the sport. Here’s a guy Chelsea could have sold to a another team, in another league, for at least £35M. A guy the coach doesn’t rate. Instead, they keep him because they can, and because it weakens potential competitors- foreign competitors who they most likely will not play. The situation is the same with David Luiz, also omitted from the Fulham game, also in demand, and also worth an incredible amount of money. Similar is true with Lukaku, an incredible player who they’ve sent out on loan again, because they won’t make room for him in their squad, but can’t be moved to make what would be a necessary economic choice at most other clubs. Demba Ba isn’t a superstar, but he isn’t playing, and could’ve been sold as well.

Chelsea sits on these players because they can. It’s no good for the players, it’s no good for spectators, it’s economically nuts, but the financial rules are so weak coaches like Mourinho can make strategic decisions at tremendous cost that only marginally add value to their team. He does that, and then he can spend £30M on Willian (possibly just so Tottenham couldn’t have him), and then bench him, too. There’s no real genius in any of this, only mega-luxurious spite. The game would be more interesting, and managers like Mourinho less vaunted, if this sort of business wasn’t allowed.

Zlatan is a Problembär. Mourinho is just a headache.

Manchester United start a new narrative

Every EPL weekend ends up as strata of competing headlines. It plays out episodically live, one team’s trauma replaced by another’s, victors and modes of victory hopping around. In the aftermath, everything melts together and the great bulk is quickly forgotten or reduced to anecdotes and snapshots. There’s the overhead picture of the league as a whole, relayed by papers and tv, where every team has a narrative that stands in some sort of relation to the whole. Usually the narratives don’t represent much beyond the need for journos and talking heads to deliver fast,  easily repeated lines with an emotional hook. As an Arsenal fan, the tabloid narratives of other teams are all more entertaining than those constructed around the Gunners. This is probably true for most fans whose team isn’t a monolithic win-machine: United have been generally celebrated for a very long time. That looks to change (wow, did they lose this weekend…) and while it’ll be nice to have a new storyline, I’m sure the new tune will get old before long.


I was struck by how sleepy United looked, how disengaged. I’m sure that is more troubling for their fans than their lack of a linchpin creative midfielder, as it suggests something rotten with their spirit. Fellaini, on the inconclusive evidence of this one start, looks like the wrong buy, and an expensive one at that. United picked up the pace in the second half, but looked average and unconvinced by their own effort. It was strange for a derby game. I imagine they’ll rebound, but I doubt it will be a Fergie-sized rebound.

Norwegian Babe Taunts Spurs Fans

There were pics going around twitter today of a girl in the away section of the Tottenham v Tromso Europa league game: she put on an Arsenal shirt to taunt the home fans, she was cute and very Norwegian-looking, Arsenal twitter nerds really dug it. As they naturally would. I’m going to keep this meta and not find and repost the picture as really it was kinda unremarkable in and of itself and I’m lazy. It’s the idea that counts, and this was a nice idea, worthy of a little infatuation.

I looked up Tromso on a map and it is quite ludicrously far north, even in Norwegian terms. I’ve toyed with pretend-following a Norwegian team, as that’s where so e of my family is from. Tromso, I guess, could be a candidate…

Timbers win again and I like funky livestreams.

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The Timbers just beat Dallas 3-2 in the Open Cup- their unbeaten run just keeps on going. I saw a little bit of the game- the last part of the second half where the Timbers battered away at Dallas’ goal- but then sadly I had more pressing things to do.

What struck me as I watched it, was how I was watching it, which sounds dumb, but anyone familiar with how livestreams like this can relate. It was on FC Dallas’ website, and had the narrow-scope feel of a home recording. Weirdly, the bleachers on the opposite side of the stadium were completely empty, and I’m not sure why because I didn’t have the sound on. Which was also weird, but my fault- I have a Heisenberg uncertainty thing where I add weirdness to whatever I observe.

But the weird icing on this strange cake were the super-retro instant replays. They were sponsored by Advocare, which must be a Texan corporation that really cares about its customers/clients/patients. The logo above would flip in over the screen like a bad Powerpoint transition, and then there’d be about a 5 second replay of the action you just saw, from the same angle you just saw it at. They made me feel like I was time traveling.

Be aware that I’m not complaining. I think this is awesome. It’s refreshing to see a game unpolished and unadorned with gimmicks- or at least, as the case was with Advocare, an extremely cheap gimmick. In the sporting world is there anything worse than those damn NFL robots? I mean, besides John Terry?

Low-rent streams like this are there so those of us that are interested can watch. In a funny way, this sort of thing radiates a vibe of hard work that televised games do not. It’s there because someone wants us to be able to see it- not because someone wants to make a buck off it. At least for now.

0-0 Relegation nightmare

I used to have nightmares in which I’d be through on goal, the last defender beaten, the net wide and unmissable before me. Mid kick, while I was drawing back my foot, something would go wrong. I’d lose my bearings, all I could feel or think about was my leg and how it wasn’t responding to my brain. Then I’d either miss the ball entirely or give it the world’s most gentle touch, and it would roll slowly away from me. Then a searing sense of impotence would overwhelm me and the dream.

QPR and Reading were just relegated together, after they bumbled to a 0-0 draw. What a ludicrously dreary situation! It was like they were all having the nightmare together. No one could even manage an own goal.