Early Wednesday evening, alone save for the cats. Spouse away visiting family, start of school looming, kept housebound by a record-breaking heat wave & lack of wheels (spouse has the car). Refresh, refresh, refresh email. Refresh browser. Refresh.
I am by nature inclined toward fits of obsessive compulsiveness, compelled – inspired, even – by anxiety. I take my meds, practice my breathing, align my posture. Hit refresh. I meditate, try to write, go for a walk. Hit refresh. Call spouse, visit with friends, watch a movie. Hit refresh. Soccernet, Football Filter, Guardian. BBC, Google News, Cartilage Free Captain. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
As an American, a non-athlete, someone whose match-watching was limited to World Cups (& then only if I happened to be near a TV with cable & if the match wasn’t at 4 a.m.), even my complete lack of experience with FIFA 11, Football Manager 2009 or PES whatever – that is, as someone with virtually no existing ties to global football – the story of my fandom is literally academic. I am a professor at a tiny liberal arts college in the lower Midwest, & for our freshman orientation class we had chosen to teach Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, the story of a group of refugee kids playing organized soccer in Clarkston, GA. I thought it might be interesting to ask my students to learn the culture of a European football team, as a sociological experiment as much as anything else. As I planned for the school year, I thought it wise to choose a team myself, to try football fandom on for size, to attempt to understand. So I did what professors do: I researched. I knew my team would play in England – less lost in translation that way. I also knew my team had to be “top flight” (though I didn’t know that term at the time) to make following them from middle America easier. I also decided that I would follow a team that was at minimal risk of being relegated, but I was wary of the Top Four (circa 2009, Liverpool still seemed a shoe-in), as I thought…well, I thought following Man U, Chelsea or Arsenal seemed too easy. This left four teams: Everton, Villa, Man City & Spurs. As a literature prof, the bookishness of Tottenham’s name appealed to me. Proud, doomed Harry Percy, Shakespearean firebrand destined for the grave. I chose Spurs.
I could not have made a worse choice. As someone with severe anxiety, I now suspect that I would have been far better off from an emotional & psychological standpoint choosing a club with either everything going for it, or nothing. To choose to follow Spurs in July 2009 was to sail straight into an obsessive maelstrom. Spurs are a team with a prayer, with a chance, a little engine that could, & as we know, during the 2009-2010 season, Tottenham Hotspur did. Champions League. Glory nights. To dare is to do. Etcetera.& now, two years later, here I am, checking & rechecking message boards, sifting through ITK whispers, laying awake running transfer window calculus over & over in my head. It is a useless, embarrassing, isolating experience. I wonder how I would feel if I had chosen another club to support. Say I had picked a sure bet, Man U or (heaven forbid) Arsenal; would I worry about those clubs the way I do about Spurs? Would I hit the refresh button on This is Anfield or Arseblog again & again, waiting for some bit of news? & I am doubly damned, because if I were to try to quit caring, or worse, if I were to switch allegiances, what would that make me? (As if anyone other than myself would know, much less care!)
& now it’s early August 2011. I support the club as best as one can when one lives 6,000-some miles from North London. I convinced a friend to follow Spurs with me; we watch games together, text back & forth about vdV & Modric, convene over rumors & fret over injuries. To do so for me is a relief, a break from the isolation, the repetitive checking & rechecking, the parade from one website to another to another & back to the beginning to start again. But my friend also has a young family & a difficult job, so I can’t just call him in the middle of the day to mull the possibility of signing Joey Barton. So I hit refresh again, reentering a cycle that cannot possibly satisfy the impulse that fuels it.
I submit my first FanPost tonight as an act of faith, faith that piping up & joining in will be better for me than clicking through my Spurs bookmarks again. “Long time listener, first time caller,” the cliché goes, & one wonders: What does it take for a person to cross that divide between passive recipient & active participant? To speak up, to not only listen but to respond, is to become a member of a community, to engage another in thought &/or feeling. But we also know joining a community is not all sunshine, rainbows & newborn kittens. No, to join in a conversation – any conversation, but particularly with people who are unfamiliar to you, & especially with those who know more than you do – is also an undeniably risky proposition. When we speak we risk embarrassing ourselves, offending others, or worst of all, being greeted by a devastating silence oozing from the other end. So why take that risk? Well, we take the risk because we have needs that can only be met by engaging others, because, in short, we don’t feel we can get by, by ourselves.
I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But just to say it – & as importantly, to be heard saying it – helps. As a person who struggles with anxiety, I speak up now & here not just because I want to know whether Spurs will sign the striker they so desperately need (though if you have any information…) but because, if I’m going to obsess over the close season activities of a football club halfway around the world, I’d rather not do it alone.