Being a supporter of a team or sport can be maddening. All the time and effort put in to evangelizing your devotion can be destroyed in what seems like an instant.
Back in the 1990s, I lived and worked in San Jose, CA. I went to high school in San Jose and a lot of my high school friends were still in the area. Outside of college (East Bay and San Francisco), my life was in San Jose.
It’s where I was introduced to Arturs Irbe, Jeff Friesen and the rest of professional hockey. Our circle of friends had played street hockey, and even dropped everything when Brian’s dad cleared a cage in the inventory facility at work just to get a few runs.
With the San Jose Sharks, we had a professional team (and hockey identity) of our own.
I remember taking a break from work and standing in Cesar Chavez Park, rooting on the Sharks as they were introduced to their new home. In person and up close, Irbe was indeed ‘like wall’. I still have a brick from the construction of the Shark Tank.
Over the next few years, my sporting life revolved around hockey. I was, as they say, “involved”. I even tried like crazy to get my friends and family into hockey. When the playoffs came around, it was insane. The teamwork! The passion! The overtime victories! The overtime defeats!
Then came the lockout of 2004/05. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe this was happening to the sport I invested so heavily in. Embarrassingly, I had brought all these people – these people who were very close to me – into this sport. Then, it was all gone.
I stopped watching hockey. Completely. I wouldn’t care a sniff about hockey for the next 10 years.
Around the same time as the lockout, I shifted my ‘full-time sports’ focus to soccer. While I’ve played and followed soccer my entire life, I hadn’t ever really followed any other league outside of the Premiership. I started imploring people to watch a game, any game, with me.
The teamwork! The passion! The victories! The defeats!
I dragged people with me to a bar at 6:00 AM to watch Merseyside derbies, explaning the reach of this particular match and why there was so much emotion in it. (The fact the bar was full at 7:00 AM on a Saturday should have said enough!)
This past year, with the World Cup building, Liverpool had its best year in a very long time (from a supporter’s perspective). Attractive football was the norm, high-quality players itched to pull on the Liverpool jersey and the equally talented and troubled player of the future had put his demons behind him.
Then, against Italy, it all hit back again. In addition to FIFA corruption stories, the working condition stories during the Brazil stadium constructions and the crazy racism stories, Suarez pulls the focus away from the talent, passion growing interest to something stupid.
Now that I’m a little older, I’m less worried about how these events will disrupt the game today and more concerned about what happens next.
- How will his family react?
- Why is Liverpool being punished?
- What is wrong with Luis Suarez?
- Is this a bigger symption that we’re not aware of?
Does this disrupt the entire game like the NHL lockout did a decade ago? No – games will go on, contracts will be signed and trophies will be hoisted.
But it does remain embarrassing for supporters. As we come to accept that these players are humans just like us – with massive pressures unlike most of us – it’s more fascinating to understand they “why” and “what’s next” rather than just the immediate and short-term impact.