a beautiful goal
I am at my mother’s in rural France. She has been ill. I am here to look after her. She is at the stage of her convalescence where she is not well enough to move, but is well enough to express opinions. We are discussing tonight’s TV. I have discovered that the second-leg of the Champions League quarter-final between Arsenal and Liverpool is being shown here. I am delighted: I had feared the urgent summons to my mother’s sickbed might mean missing the match. It is a crucial match. I ask my mother if she would mind me watching the football.
Of course not, she protests. There’s nothing else on. Except, she mentions quickly, a Claude Chabrol film. On the other side. At the same time.
Later that evening, we are watching the football. I should really have suggested that we watch the Claude Chabrol film. Ordinarily, I would have been very happy to watch the Claude Chabrol film. But I am still angry at having had to suspend my life in London – unnecessarily, as I see it – to come to rural France to look after my mother. I am angry with my father who refused to cut short a drinking jag in London to come and care for her. I am angry with my mother for not taking up the kind offers from neighbours which would have obviated the need for me to cancel everything and come here. I am angry with myself for cancelling everything and coming here. And I really want to watch the football. To distract my mother from the fact that we are not watching the Claude Chabrol film, and to compensate for the guilt I feel, I take care to share the experience with my mother, to involve her in the action, to explain the significance of the match given the result of the previous leg, and Arsenal’s recent poor performance in the Premiership. I talk about the players: how Adebayor seems to have lost form since cutting his hair, how I hate Gallas for his petulance and divaish behaviour which does not seem to be substantiated by divaish flair on the pitch and how Gilberto made the better captain – better even, than Henry, himself a diva but one whose right to act so could not be denied – and how I think Gilberto looks like a noble kind of dog.
My mother decides she is going to support Liverpool. She claps her hands with childlike delight and whoops gleefully whenever they score. Which they do. Often. We lose. I am clearly upset.
How did you get so interested in football? My mother asks. You never used to be.
Two years ago I experienced a period of depression. A rapid succession of emotionally demanding events, some of which I have written about on this blog, had left me hollow and exhausted. During this time, I experienced the typical symptoms of depression. I cried a lot. I felt weightless and adrift, and could see little point to anything. I became reclusive. I followed a regimented daily routine and would write out very detailed “To do” lists: 8.00am, Get Up. 8.05 am Brush Teeth. These periods of regimented existence would be alternated by bouts of wild and destructive drinking. There seemed little point in either mode of being. I feared going to bed and would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning, trawling websites for effective and undetectable means of self-murder. I found a post on one site from a man who signed himself off as “Barry from Slough”. For a fee, he would assist in a client’s suicide then “dress the scene” to suggest a violent robbery, thereby sparing the deceased’s family the true facts of the death. I considered contacting Barry, until I thought that perhaps death by a violent intruder was possibly more traumatic for friends and relatives to consider than the fact that their friend or loved one had simply been too exhausted to continue with the business of living. I thought about swimming out to sea. Just swimming out as far as I could, but this seemed a lonely and frightening way to die. I wanted to be comfy. I considered doing it in the bathroom of a luxury hotel. I would write a note and pin it to the bathroom door. I would get the note translated into Polish, for the benefit of the chambermaid.
And then I discovered football.
I had often tagged along with P to watch games, and listened as he patiently explained (several times, in the case of the offside rule), the manoeuvres, the motives, of the players on the pitch, but I could never really care about the outcome in quite the way he seemed to. But now, suddenly, I could.
What had previously seemed a pointless past-time governed by arbitrary rules, valuing a specific set of skills which had no relevance to everyday life, suddenly made perfect sense to me. I found comfort in the statistics. I immersed myself in the dramas and the personalities. I mediated difficult emotions – rage and fear and frustration – through the actions of the men on the pitch and gave myself up to the pure life-affirming joy of the beautifully scored goal.
I would go to the pub and sit alone with a pint and watch game after game, comforted by the connection I felt with a group of strangers who demanded nothing from me. This is my third season as an Arsenal fan. After a glorious start to the season, we end it, after some painful moments of cruelly raised - then crushed - hopes, with nothing.
But you get up. You start again, with hope.