Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I remember when you could still tell a joke in this bar without the world coming to an end

A couple weeks ago, I pulled myself out of my typical midday, pre-work routine of playing poker online while guzzling black coffee and huffing cigarette after cigarette long enough to wander upstairs and push the appropriate buttons on the remote control – in the correct order, this time – to put Arsenal v. Celtic on the TV. I had remembered about the match after it started. Sure, I knew Celtic wasn't likely to come close to even getting to extra time, but I always enjoy the football.

Much to my surprise and eventual delight, I tuned in, if that term still applies to television in 2009, right as Eduardo had won a penalty and given Arsenal the lead. My first thought? "Oh well. Celtic wasn't going through anyway." But as I continued settling into the couch, I started to feel a little quiver and jolt in the parts of me that react in such ways when a controversial sporting moment takes shape. The commentators were moaning about something Eduardo had done. "It's probably best if I wait for a replay," I thought. Well, it took a few different angles, but finally I witnessed what I was sure would be comedy gold and powerful ammunition for weeks and months to come among my friends.

I saw Eduardo – conclusively, definitively, undeniably – go down like a community playhouse trainee desperate to impress the leading lady he had been longing for since the auditions.

It was outstanding – beyond funny, really. I couldn't wait until the weekend so I could meet my friends and regulars, some of them Arsenal supporters, at the only bar in Milwaukee stupid and crazy enough to open at 6 a.m. for "soccer" matches. I was prepared to, quite frankly, give them loads of shit about such an abysmal effort from one of their heroes.

Then everyone in the world went loony tunes about it. Of course, the most important has been the two-game ban Eduardo received. I maintain it's essentially meaningless because Arsenal will sashay through their Champions League group, but still, it's a real thing that has been put into effect and it has repercussions, however unimportant I deem them. But also, there have been the downright silly tangents that sprung from that decision. Arsenal supporters have, perhaps understandably, jumped to Eduardo's defense. But the obscene reactions to the ban startled me, and there's now Zapruder-esque compilations online of "fellow diver" Wayne Rooney that have been posted as a response. I've read calls for a full UEFA retrospective of dives that have affected Arsenal. On the other end of things, the Daily Mail is excitedly urging (is there any other action for that paper?) to join their campaign to "shame the divers."

The back and forth about this for two full weeks has been stunning, even surviving the similarly outrageous Chelsea "child trafficking" development and all it has given birth to regarding luring talented young players from overseas to the promised land of Premier League riches. Such is the never-ending bore of each and every international break.

Not all of this ruckus has been pointless, of course. These debates are revealing as to what sprouts from the mind-set of modern football supporters. The best take that I've seen came from Sport Is A TV Show, which offered many more sensible layers and arguments about diving than I'll likely ever be prepared to discuss here – particularly the case for a player having the good sense to go down once he is actually fouled in the box.

See, I've written this post about seven times since Eduardo dived, but the central point has never changed: Eduardo's dive was a gifted moment I could use over and over to enliven the ephemeral qualities that make watching football in a large group so much fun. I feel like climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro and shouting, "But wait, wait – just wait a goddamn minute!! He got caught in an hilariously awful dive! We can use this!"

When I was on that couch watching those replays, the very first thing that entered my mind was how I could point to such a silly display the next time I was at the bar, seeing my Arsenal-supporting pals "Ooohing" and "La-La-ing" when Eboue and Arshavin and van Persie played a nifty yet fruitless triangle sequence among them that ended with a through ball played a touch too hard that Jussi Jaaskelainen would easily collect. These are the moments we, as snorting and chortling men, come to embrace while taking part in our routine of getting together, watching these most-often agony-inducing matches and loving how we can do it again and again and again.

And with it happening so early in the season, I had a full nine months to wear that joke out. I couldn't wait. Now, it seems like all the fun is gone. Why bring it up anymore in such a setting? "But, but, but Boruc kind of nicked his foot!" "Johnny Foreigner always does such things. We must stop it!" "Rooney dives, too!! At least Eduardo doesn't snog his granny!!!"

Ack, to hell with it. Look, these sorts of moments matter, people. Eduardo falling over like someone told him to pretend he was studying under Lee Strasberg had a lot of potential. This was something to cherish for those among us who love our Arsenal-supporting friends but, honestly, must admit sometimes it all becomes a bit much. I've seen Colin – and buddy, I'd take a bullet for you – turn over a scoring sheet at a bowling alley and sketch out Arsenal's attacking intricacies for a perfect stranger! Turning to a friend like that and reminding Eduardo was shamelessly exposed for a fraud one time helps keep our loved ones grounded. It keeps them humble – and if anyone could use some humility right now it's Arsenal supporters.

Look, football is humbling in its nature. The highs are followed by equal lows – I know as a Liverpool supporter – and moments like what happened with Eduardo are natural examples of that aesthetic. But the wild-eyed reactions all around with Eduardo's dive have, I feel, robbed me of that opportunity. I could've kept my great friends on their toes and level-headed all season if people would've just laughed and shut the hell up. Accept what happened for what it was and move on. Instead, I'm forced to spell it out in a more-direct fashion in this post.

The world took all the fun out of Eduardo's dive. Pardon my unseriousness, but that's the biggest travesty for me.


Colin said...

Huzzah! Well said. Honestly. Perhaps the reaction from the Arsenal side, from my side/perspective, ranged so quickly to defense of the lad exactly because the pendulum had swung so violently and so quickly to the other side. Like you said, we all knew it was a dive ... yet we also all knew it was meaningless. That it was given such greater meaning in the Historical Scheme of Diving seems an unfair overstatement through the lens of time.

But still, it was rather funny, wasn't it? Thanks for the perspective. Let the early morning pratfalls commence.

Stephen said...

Summed it up perfectly. My Arse-loving roommate still claims it wasn't a "bad" dive and has pointed me to Stevie G YouTube clips relentlessly. Um, I think that's your insecurity showing.

Jamie said...

mmmmhm. very much so. this is something a touch more realistic, however far fetched it may be for the Premier League...