This was a post I wrote a little while back at my Liverpool blog AnfieldAsylum.com after a player, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed on the field and was essentially seconds from death. Considering last night’s events, you could easily replace his name with “Rich Peverley” in this, including the disclaimer at the top about how overjoyed I am that he appears to be ok. You can also replace “soccer” with “hockey” and I think it still applies perfectly.
A couple of disclaimers here. I conjured up the thoughts for this post in the immediate aftermath of Fabrice Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane. It is an event that shook me to my core, as well I’m sure it did to yours. I could not be more delighted that he’s improving at the moment, as most of this was outlined when things looked very bleak indeed. Secondly, I do not mean to offend anyone’s beliefs or thoughts here, this is more meant as a catharsis for myself and all the things you deal with when you see something like this.
When something like this happens, there’s this rush to the foothold of “it shows us what really matters.” The thought being that football and sports and fandom don’t. I’ve never really bought into that. Football to me, and sports, are more than just a distraction to what people think “matter.” It’s an alternate universe. Nick Hornby wrote a chapter about this in “Fever Pitch”, and without going back to read it exactly (for the 50th time) the contention was it’s not exactly just entertainment. Most of the time, we don’t really enjoy watching games. How miserable are you during Liverpool’s matches? I know a lot of the time I’m impossible to be around. Especially in matches against Man United or Chelsea or any big team, there are times when I shake, I can’t sit still, I yell, I throw things. But it’s a totally different set of standards for that life. It’s why Chelsea fans don’t care a jot that their team was a cure for insomnia when Mourinho had them raking in the trophies.
And we create that alternate universe or life because let’s face it, a lot of the things in life that “matter” are a chore a majority of the time. Spouses, kids, jobs, friends, while they all have ultimate rewards, the road there can be annoying, dejecting, frustrating, boring, and a whole host of other things that aren’t pleasant adjectives. I’m sure you know parents of small children, or friends with terrible jobs, or people in bad relationships or marriages, or having fights with family. We tend to gloss over it, but that’s almost as much of life as the good things. If not more.
So football does matter. It’s somewhere we can go to deal with those other things that can be hard to deal with a lot of the time. Football also brings us to places and people we never would have met or been otherwise, as do all sports. And when something as awful as Muamba’s collapse breaks the divide between the two worlds, it’s shattering.
And that whole “show us what truly matters” to me is just a scrapping or clawing for any silver lining or good to come out of something so awful. But there isn’t one. There is no good, there is no silver lining. Because something like that happening to someone like Muamba just doesn’t make any sense.
To me here’s why: I’ve only recently started playing soccer again after a decade long absence, and even at the lowest level possible that I’m at, pickup games with my buddies, I’m amazed at what the sport requires to play well. Simply the physical condition to be able to run, sprint, cut, stop, and do it all over again again for 90 minutes is hard enough. Combine that with the ridiculous level of concentration one needs to keep your touch delicate to keep the ball, keep your head up to see teammates and spaces where the passes need to go, and how to get the ball there, the ability to see those spaces to get yourself into for passes, the anticipation for positioning to defend well, it’s almost hard to fathom.
So when we think of a Premier League footballer, we think of someone at the height of physical fitness as well as mental fortitude. It’s a level of the combination such a low percentage of the world’s population can reach, it almost makes you laugh. And when someone at that level, at the age of 23, is felled by an ailment that we associate with the elderly and out of shape, we can’t reconcile it. It’s shocking, jarring, confusing, and a whole host of other things.
And what’s really painful about it, and why some reach to any sort of solace they can find, is that it illustrates that life just doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Disaster can strike anyone, anywhere. There are a thousand reasons that tomorrow something could strike me and erase me, or worse yet a thousand more that could take away someone as important to me as Fabrice is to his family. There’s no plan, or great work, or at least it doesn’t feel like there is. That’s what awful scenes like those that took place in North London remind us of.
It’s times like these that I’m envious of those who can find happiness in religion or something else, that find comfort in knowing that as jumbled and non-sensical as life can be there is an answer to it all at the end. I’m not saying I’m smarter than those people or they’re dumb, it just doesn’t work for me. At times I wish it did.
The temptation to say football or sports doesn’t matter is because we let something we have no control over influence our emotions. But that happens in the walks of life that supposedly do matter more. Your company could be bought out by a larger company and your job made redundant. Did you have any control over that? Your spouse could be hit by a drunk driver. Did you have any control over that?
Fabrice Muamba just reminds us how fragile it all is in a place where we thought we’d gone to escape that truth. I think that’s why it shakes us so much.
Anyway, I wrote that to try and sort out my feelings about it. It helped, and I hope it might help some of you as well if you’re in the same place.