Remembering the joy

After reading Brian Phillips’ brilliant piece on hyperfandom in soccer, I was reluctantly reading the columns and came upon this one: “…Anyway, the only thing worse than hyperpartisanship is overintellectualising a simple game for simple folk [sic].”

It’s true: before the age of the internet, before the age of the Barclays Premier League, soccer was a blue-collar game played without pretense or pomp. Fans went to the same pub at lunchtime on every Saturday to support their local club. Then, win or lose, they went home to their lives. There weren’t ubiquitous replica jerseys, there wasn’t sports talk radio—football was simple. It occurred to me that this argument could probably be transplanted to any sport: are over-analysis, constant blogging and re-tweeting, and four hour NFL pregame shows taking us away from the elemental joy of being a sports fan?

For me, my life as a sports fan began as a child on the couch with my dad: falling asleep in the late innings of Tuesday night Red Sox games was as much a part of my childhood as school or birthdays. This suggests inheritance and reinforcement, nature and nurture—the slow drying of the wet cement of personality.

In this way, sports are as simple and deeply-ingrained as a love for diner coffee or a mistrust of cats. Watching sports is just something I like to do.

The problem is this: just to get back to that point, that basic truth, a sports fan must strip away countless hours of media saturation, all the prejudicial notions about fans of certain teams from certain cities, every piece of Danny Woodhead trivia locked away for a bar bet. A sports fan must look past everything that, as a sports fan, they are subjected to on a daily basis.

To use myself as an example again: on Transfer Deadline Day for the English Premier League, I literally comb through every internet message board I can find, every CoverIt Live Clockwatch, just to see who Chelsea might be in the market for. I draw up formations, consider personnel changes, how new acquisitions would match up against rivals. But when I look back on the August 31 of every year, which should—in theory—be automatically one of the most exciting days of the football calendar, did I ever enjoy it? No, not really.

My fondest memories as a Chelsea fan are days when I drag myself out of bed for the early game, 8:15 a.m. kickoffs on Sunday mornings, and quietly watch a relatively unimportant match against Wigan or Blackburn with a cup of coffee. Moments I remember where I wasn’t analyzing anything—I was just watching the team that I support play the game that I love.

Ultimately, I don’t know if it’s possible to reduce our sports consumption back to its most basic form. Our reality is that these shows, these websites, these bloggers exist because we keep going back. And why wouldn’t we? If the joy we experience watching the Patriots play for three hours once a week can be replicated and reproduced daily, hourly, then of course we will be there. Hell yes.

But maybe, if we could practice some degree of moderation, the simple pleasure would be that much more tangible. Maybe we could treat our favorite teams, our favorite sports, like our favorite dish at a restaurant. Don’t order it every night, because sooner or later it starts to lose flavor.

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