The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
I love the game of soccer, but I’ve never had a team to support. This discourages me. Living in Chicagoland, I sort of follow the Fire, but that flame (ahem) burns low, and not so steadily. I’ve spent a lot of time in England over the years, and feel that I ought to have a Premier League team of my very own — maybe even one from the Championship, though that would be pretending to a level of expertise and local knowledge that I can’t pull off — but it has never really happened.
Lord knows I’ve tried. From the beginning I ruled out the Big Four as too obvious, and too embracing of an inequitable system. I turned to Fulham, then, which made sense in several ways: a recent history of American players; a legendarily attractive playing ground — but small and really cute! I mean, it’s called Craven Cottage of all things —; no chance of winning the Premiership, but instead big thrills for all when the specter of relegation passes. For a while I called myself a Fulham supporter, but it never really took; I was play-acting, going through the motions.
I decided that London was the problem. London is too obvious. Wonderful, yes, but obviously wonderful. And I’ve always been a north-of-England guy: it seems to me that the North of England is a lot like the South of the U.S.: poorer, less well-educated, but with surprisingly persistent cultural traditions and a strong sense of place. As a native of Birmingham, Alabama — an old iron-and-steel city with a suburb called Leeds and not terribly far from the town of Sheffield — I had some obvious choices. (And yes, I know the Midlands aren’t the North as such, but we’re employing a rough chop here, not a fine dice.)
So: Aston Villa. That’s my team, I decided. Not Big Four, but competitive — competitive enough to give supporters delusions of grandeur. Plenty of English players on the side, which in a nostalgic way I like. And an American keeper! A good fit all around.
There’s one problem, though. Unless I am very, very intentional about it — self-punitively disciplined, which rather defeats the purpose of being a fan, if you know what I mean — I find that I pay a lot more attention to Arsenal than the Villa, or than any other team for that matter. I have to be honest here: I love the way Arsenal go about their business. I’d rather watch Cesc Fàbregas play than anyone, and there are all those other exciting young players who might do anything as the years go by. And now a full season of Arshavin!
Yes, I understand the problems: I didn’t need Fredorrarci to tell me, though to be sure he told me real good. (“Almunia to Gallas to Clichy to Diaby to Vermaelen to Fàbregas to Nasri to Fàbregas to Song to Walcott to van Persie to Fàbregas to Bendtner. Almunia to Gallas to Clichy to Diaby to Vermaelen to Fàbregas to Nasri to Fàbregas to Song to Walcott to van Persie to Fàbregas to Bendtner to Walcott.”) But dammit, Arsenal was second in the league in goals scored last year — they weren’t playing Capture the Flag out there.
And see, I don’t even know how many goals Villa scored last year, at least not without looking it up, which I just did. I was frankly surprised to see them in the top half of the table. Some supporter I am.
There’s a degree of attentiveness — or perhaps it’s a particular kind of attentiveness — the attentiveness of the fan — that really can’t be chosen. (Of course, you can choose, but it’ll be play-acting, or making a point, rather than real fandom.) It’s something that happens to you. Growing up in Alabama, I was a University of Alabama football fan by inheritance: I could have been other only by repudiating my whole family. Even when, as a ten-year-old, I became obsessed by the Baltimore Orioles — when most of the people I knew followed the Atlanta Braves, reasonably enough — I didn’t decide. I liked the way they played. I thought Earl Weaver was great, with his little-man’s tantrums, his commitment to platooning, his strong-pitching-and-three-run-homers philosophy. I was deeply committed to the Orioles for years.
But eventually my attentiveness declined, and then died. Peter Angelos killed it, though that’s a story for another day and another blog. The point here and now is that the fandom of adulthood — the fandom that doesn’t grow from long residence in one place, or from family tradition — is changeable. It’s dependent on circumstance and preference for certain styles of play, and maybe certain other preferences too: I don’t think I could support a team with kit like this, not unless I had loved them all my life.
I never would have been attracted to the Arsenal of twenty years ago (the Nick Hornby Arsenal, let’s call it, and even he hated the way they played); and a decade ago my chief interest in the club was that Dennis Bergkamp played there. In another few years I may well undergo an alienation of affection. Indeed I almost certainly will: the style of play that delights me so much may not outlast Fàbregas’s tenure with the team — which’ll probably be another ten months — and it’s certainly unlikely to continue beyond Arsène Wenger’s time as manager. Maybe eventually I’ll become the Villa supporter I want to be. But for now, insofar as I am a supporter at all, I guess I’m an Arsenal supporter. Damn it.
Read More: Arsenal
by Alan Jacobs · August 18, 2009