I haven’t had much luck with the ladies lately.
No, not like that. Let me backtrack. In the past weeks and months, I’ve approached many football fans to ask if they’d be interested in guest-contributing to TheHardTackle.com.
I’ve gotten mostly positive responses — with the exception of one particular demographic: women. From the guys, I hear a general: “Yeah that sounds cool, I’ll let you know.” But from the gals? “Oh, I don’t think I could do my team justice.” “I don’t think I have enough writing experience.” “I don’t think I can.”
I can take a rejection, honest; but this whole thing is just making me sad. Because these people are some of my favorite football fans. These are the people I love chatting with via Twitter or Facebook or IM. I depend on their insights and sympathy to survive the general madness that is football.
Obviously, being a sensible opinionated football fan doesn’t mean you have a public duty to become a blogger. Some people don’t like to write. That’s cool.
I’m just stumped as to why I’ve been turned down by so many women, and why the reason always seems to be some variation on, “Oh, I’m probably not up to task.” I don’t get it.
Except that’s a lie. Because I do, I think. It’s not a very nice think. But there it is:
Disclaimer: Personal reflections based on my experiences. Your Bundesliga mileage may vary.
I didn’t immediately fall head over heels for any Bundesliga club, the way I fell for Arsenal. And I’m thankful. The passion of a supporter for her club, the worship and the devotion is a powerful, beautiful thing. But it can also be poisonous. You start to lose perspective. You think everyone who dislikes your club is wrong. There are no discussions anymore, only recitations of the party line and shouting matches with anyone who disagrees.
Sometimes I just want to watch football without my heart is hanging in the balance.
I don’t necessarily like the person I become on Arsenal matchdays. But I only realized this because of the Bundesliga, where I have no all-consuming love, nothing but the football to keep me coming back.
This was a good thing, I learned. Because football has more to offer than blind loyalty.
Arsenal taught me how to be a fan. The Bundesliga taught me everything else:
I’ve a confession to make: I’m watching the Federer-Murray semifinal for the third time today. Why? Well, for one, it was a bloody good match. For two, I can’t get enough of the way Andy Murray played.
Not just because he beat Federer, mind — though that’s certainly cause for celebration. Before today Andy Murray had never defeated Roger Federer in a grand slam. Before today Roger Federer had never played two five-setters back to back, either. The wear and tear from his epic quarterfinal vs. Tsonga was evident in Federer’s movement and energy today, but that didn’t stop this semifinal from being an instant classic with plenty of full-on tennis — and full-on guts, as well.
I’m talking about Roger Federer, the swan king ballet maestro of men’s tennis. This is not a guy who gets through matches with dogged determination. Most of the time he doesn’t have to, because he’s just that good. But today, Murray out-aced, out-hit, and out-ran an opponent who couldn’t find his usual game. Federer’s response? To will himself through a five-set firefight with sheer bloody-mindedness.
It was not Federer’s best display. It wasn’t even close. But today Federer showed us four hours of a different kind of genius than what we’re normally treated to, and it was beautiful in its own right.
So I’m totally on board with the Fed fans who say this was a good loss, as far as losses go. And as far as wins go, this was a fantastic win for Murray. Not just for the fact of winning, because let’s face it, Federer had no business even stretching that match to 5 sets, and I say this with the utmost respect and admiration. Andy Murray should have had this match in the bag. But the fact of Federer’s resistance, that bloody-minded genius, is what made this semifinal a victory to me. Because for all that he grimaced and yelled and grabbed at random body parts, not once during this match did I get the sense that Andy Murray had lost faith in himself.
Murray lost two tiebreaks to take the match in five. His career record against Federer in tiebreaks is now 7-1, and that stat doesn’t lie. Murray out-tennis’d Federer for three blistering sets, but in the 2nd and the 4th, Federer demonstrated exactly why he’s a 17-time grand slam champion. 17 grand slams aren’t won by genius alone; 17 grand slams demand the fortitude of heart and mind to go with it. When it came down to the knife-edge confidence test of a tiebreak, Federer won with a fearlessness that was frankly awesome to behold.
But you know what? Losing those sets didn’t shake Andy Murray. Not this time. And therein lies the lesson, because as a certain Disney movie once taught us, champions are made not by the strength of their body but by the strength of their heart.
Today, Andy Murray demonstrated the whipcord toughness of his competitor’s soul.
He’s not unshakable. He may never be. He may always be that guy who mutters at himself during changeovers and yells at himself when he misses a shot he thinks he should have made. And that’s fine. He wears his heart on his sleeve, like he always has. He vents his frustrations, but now he doesn’t let it control him. He’s calmer. He’s grown. He can see past the frustration and the moment, and that settles him in a way like never before. Like bicycle wheels in motion, steady because they are not standing still. With Lendl’s guidance, Murray is finally learning to live with himself and the impossible monster of his tennis — and he’s learning to make it work.
Federer was not at his best, tennis-wise, but by god was Andy Murray. This semifinal was one of the best — if not THE best — match I have ever seen him play. Murray’s serve was as clutch as clutch ever gets. He crafted the points. He went for his shots. He hit more forehand winners than Roger freakin’ Federer, and that stat alone is mildly flabbergasting.
This was an unbelievably competitive match. It took a sub-par but divinely gutsy Federer, and a relentless Andy Murray playing some of his best and most aggressive counterpunching tennis. When you think about it, that speaks volumes of just how great a player Roger Federer truly is. And if you think about what it takes to face down that kind of genius — well, then maybe you can understand just why I’m so unbearably proud to be a Murray fan today.
Since I posted about my proposed project three weeks ago, I have received an overwhelming response from all of you in the US, in the UK, in Germany, Spain, Italy, Turkey, etc. You have offered me places to stay and help with translation and ways to improve my proposal. For all of that and more, thank you.
I submitted my fellowship application ten days ago. There were one or two technical hiccups, unfortunately, which I won’t get into here, as I don’t know how big of a factor they ended up being. But long story short, my application has not been accepted and I am afraid that’s the end of the road for this project you have helped me grow.
At least, for now. One of my professors has urged me to think about traveling and researching on my own, even without the fellowship. It will be extremely costly, however, and at the moment I do not see how it could be possible. But it’ll always be in the back of my mind.
In many ways, this project belongs to all of you as much as it does to me. I owe an incredible debt of gratitude to so many people, and I hope all of you know who you are, and how much you have meant to me and always will. So thank you. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it happen. But thank you for believing in me, and giving me courage enough to try.
Now the senior year job hunt begins, and where that’ll take me…who knows. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing, because stories are always there. So look for me here or at TheHardTackle or the LPG blog. Send me a tweet, drop me a line. I’d love to talk.
This has to be the oldest cliché in the book by now. “Women don’t understand the offside rule” – and Paula Paxton is the stereotypical poster child. But you know, women do understand the offside rule. And the away goal rule. And anything else that traditional male football fans do.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about women and football fandom. And with any luck, it won’t be the last: I’m applying for a fellowship to travel abroad for one year, to study the politics of gender in European football fandom – specifically, by recording the experience of female football fans. I’m talking about female fans – traditional and non-traditional – in the highly masculine arena of professional men’s football.
Look through any Top 10 or Top 100 list of best football books. You’ll find maybe two books that have anything to do with women, and neither of those will be about female fans. “But there aren’t that many books about fans in general,” you argue. Well, yes. Except no. Just off the top of my head – Fever Pitch, How Soccer Explains the World, Bloody Confused, The World is a Ball… But if you want to know about them wimminfolk who love this beautiful game? Good luck. There are a couple of articles, there are one-off incidents you hear about in the news, and as for the rest, look to. the. blogosphere.
I’ve met so many strong, intelligent, passionate women whose voices as fans and supporters are simply not recognized. Not all of us are traditional fans, sure. But we all love the game. I have met women who came to football on their own, alone and far from the clubs and leagues they support; and I have met women who are third, fourth, fifth generation supporters of a club whose colors run as deep as blood in their veins.
I’m talking about you – you, who have offered me support and shared your kindness and passion for this sport. You, who have moved me and inspired me and humbled me beyond words. You, whom I reach out to now.
These stories – our stories – are ones worth telling. Because until we listen, we can’t presume to know. So I’d like to give a voice to all of us, the female fans – marginalized, disregarded, embedded deep into the fabric of football culture. Women love football, too. We deserve a chance to tell the world how, and why.
So here’s why I’m writing this post: to ask for your help. I’m proposing to travel to Spain, Germany, and Italy (or possibly Turkey) to pursue this study. As such, here are my top three concerns:
1. Places to stay. A couch, a floor. A spare room. I will have a modest stipend: not enough to find a place on my own, but enough to share a flat or cover utility costs or however else you’d like to be compensated. I promise to be an unobtrusive roommate. And I can cook!
2. Translators. You wil be paid, and as generously as my stipend allows. I am moderately competent in Spanish, but I can’t speak a word of German, and my Italian stretches about as far as “…hey, that kind of looks like the Latin word for _____.” If you are bilingual in German, Italian, and/or Spanish (or Turkish) and may be able to help out in this project, let me know! No concrete commitments needed – I just want to get a sense that this might be possible.
3. Contacts with fans, fan groups, etc. The cornerstone of my project, obviously. Names, pubs, phone numbers, emails, twitters, whatever. If you are/know of female fans who want to be heard, hit me up.
If you can help in any way, or want to see my full project proposal, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or DM me on twitter: @mimsicality. Or drop a comment!
And even if you can’t do anything listed above, I’d ask that you help by signal-boosting. Share this with your followers, your friends, whatever. Every little bit helps. And every little bit means the world to me.
Thanks for your time,
P.S. Since someone just pointed this out to me (and I’m a derp for omitting it) – TENTATIVE TRAVEL TIMELINE:
- GERMANY : August 2013 – November 2013
- SPAIN: December 2013 – March 2014
- ITALY/TURKEY: April 2014 – July 2014
Forget about money for a second. Forget about Financial Fair Play, £24 million transfers, and oil barons' bottomless coffers. Money doesn't guarantee happiness. Money doesn't guarantee success either (see: Liverpool).
The ball is round, Sepp Herberger famously said, and the game lasts 90 minutes. Anything can happen. Does happen. It's football. It's beautiful. And life isn't always about sport, but sport so often is about life -- and the unimpeachable humanity of the men who play this game.
What? What’s that? Summer’s already gone and Arsenal have signed people and drew 0-0 against Sunderland in the season opener at the Emirates? Madness! Why it was March only yesterday, I tell you. March!
But April was the cruelest month, the dog days of summer were nothing to remember and everything to forget. On July 4th, a pithy 300-word statement tore faith into as many pieces, and 42 days later, Robin van Perfidy fucked off to United with the little boy screaming inside him all the way. And then Barcelona added another ex-Gunner to their squad in Song. I can’t really joke about any of this. So I’ll just point you to in this general direction. Off you go now. Leave me alone in my cannon-shaped misery.
…oh, all right. I know. Moping’s overrated. Clichéd. I KNOW. So yes, I’m removing the lettering from my 10 Arsenal shirt, and yes, I’m going to wear it, still proud of the crest, when I go to the Lir on Sunday to meet some local Boston Gooners. That’s how it goes, inn’it?
“Love the club, not the players” — “Arsenal goes on” — “Arsenal will never leave”.
It’s all true enough. Football and football clubs are loves that will never leave us, except by disillusionment, and that requires our consent. So as long as we don’t give it, this is a love story that will never end. Comforting, that.
But sometimes that’s all those words are — comforting, security blankets, things to repeat in the dark when the world is confusing and terrible and not at all like the fairytale versions we tell to children and our childlike selves. Not childish — childlike: trusting, believing, hopeful. We all need that, the belief that it’s gonna be okay and Arsene/mum/the fairy godmother will come along and fix everything we can’t fix ourselves.
But here’s the muggle reality: us fans who really believed van Persie was something different, a Gunner who loved the club as a proper Gooner would — we were hurt by a liar, a traitor, a person no less human than the rest of us, after all. We want our idols to be more than mortal; then they go and reveal the being behind the superhero mask.
It’s all right, though. The world isn’t built by magic and happy-endings, after all; it’s raised up brick by brick, stone by stone and held together with human hands. It hurts along the way. Sometimes you get your thumb squashed by a hammer, sometimes a splinter gets caught under your skin. But that’s the wonderful thing about being human, living — we heal, and we grow. With every misstep and mistake. So it’s okay if it hurts. Growing pains are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re the mark of our humanity, and better to be human, evolving, than frozen in a mockery of perfection.
So good-bye, Robin, and good riddance. Good-bye, Songinho, and thanks for the £15million you got us in the process. Good-bye 2011/12, and hello new day! Hello new challenges and frustrations and fears, renewed hope and faith and tears. Victory grows through harmony and trials and tribulations, draw or defeat, and we move ever forward — forward — forward.
Break’s over, guys. Time to get back to work.
P.S. Piggybacking off the “change” theme of this post, there are some personal changes happening in my life as well. First, I’ve been doing some Bundesliga writing for The Hard Tackle (click here for my piece on Leverkusen). And second, I’ll be blogging for LPGCast this coming season. So look for me there!
I will still be updating Autobiography of a Fan, in my spare time, though with school starting it may be very infrequently. Thank you to all who’ve taken the time to read this little blog of mine, and shared and helped me meet some utterly wonderful people – online and irl. Time and again, I’ve been humbled by the kindness of strangers.