There is of course a lot to write about these days in World Cricket. The IPL playoffs, the England vs New Zealand Test series, County Cricket…etc. And I will write about all of those things soon enough. But not tonight.
Tonight I want to talk about football.
I write a lot on here about how nice it is to be a neutral cricket fan. I don’t sweat every ball, my heart never gets broken, and as long as the match is entertaining, I honestly don’t care who wins. It is a phenomenally enjoyable way to watch a sport
Football, however, is a different story.
On Sunday morning, in case you weren’t aware, Arsenal needed to win away at Newcastle in order to seal the fourth and final Champions League position. A draw or a loss would mean that Tottenham could pip them for the spot with a win – the thought of which turned my stomach.
When I first started following Arsenal, I never thought I would get on board with the rivalry with Spurs – since it is for all intents and purposes a local rivalry, something that I just cannot identify with having not grown up in North London. I thought my enemies would be Chelsea and Manchester United.
Boy was I wrong.
It’s too strong a word, but I hate Tottenham. Hate their players and their fans – especially the ones here in town.
It makes me feel silly, and a little stupid, and it is not an emotion that I talk about at parties. But for two hours every weekend, I am allowed to massage my hidden feelings with my fellow Arsenal fans. Which I think is acceptable. I have the rest of the week to be a grown up.
And so Champions League football was at stake, but also at stake was the absolute need to finish ahead of Spurs.
Arsenal took a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute. The Tottenham match was scoreless until the 89th minute when Bale, of course, scored. His goal meant a Newcastle equalizer would knock Arsenal down to fifth. I would be incomprehensibly despondent if that happened. For reals.
The next five minutes can be summed up in one singular Tweet:
This is horrendous.
— Arseblog Tom (@arseblog_tom) May 19, 2013
It was not fun. It was physically painful. Every Arsenal fan on earth just KNEW that Newcastle was going to score. We all saw it happening.
If you have access, the replay is available on ESPN3. I urge you to watch the final five minutes. I watched it tonight and even though I knew what was going to happen I still broke into a cold sweat. But the best part is the away fans. Shifting, screaming, gripping each others’ shoulders, checking their watches…you can see the pain and the misery in their eyes.
Of course, the goal never came. Arsenal finished fourth, and all was right in the universe.
But that abject misery stuck with me for the rest of the day. Why do we do this to ourselves? Those away fans paid really good money, and took a train 300 miles north on a Sunday morning – all to be absolutely tortured. I woke up at 8:00am and biked 10 miles downtown to the local Arsenal pub, and spent money, and drank pints, and bought food – all to be downright miserable for 90 minutes.
And I would not have it any other way. It was a fucking blast. Some of you will understand, some of you will not. There is torture in being a sports fan. Authentic and painful torture. But there is also relief, and camaraderie, and unbearable joy. And of all the sports, football is the one that provides all of the above emotions, the positive and the negatives, in spades.
I am happy the season is over though. For now I can go back to putting my feet up with a good cup of coffee and a good book and the cricket in the background. Occasionally I will yawn, or give an audible groan of delight at a cover drive, but otherwise watching Test cricket is the most relaxing and peaceful part of my week.
Sometimes I am bummed that I do not have a cricket team to support. This is not one of those times.