Friday, March 5, 2010

Somewhere between schadenfreude and indifference

You might have heard the news today that Michael Owen is done for the season after a hamstring injury Sunday in the Carling Cup final. Excuse my reaction if it sounds unbecoming, but thank goodness that's over with now.

Owen and I have a somewhat unique history, seeing how he's the reason I'm a Liverpool fan. The 10-cent version of the story is that, like many Americans raised in the Upper Midwest, I came to football late. It took Fox Sports World, the lazy-days schedule of college life and an open mind to turn me on to the game. I remember it as being somewhere around 2000. Watching one game with an open mind led to watching another. Then another. When I realized I was hooked on the sport and wanted a team to follow, the only player I was really aware of was Michael Owen – thanks to France '98.

A goal like that, even before social networking, was readily available over here for anyone with an interest in sports and an ability to look at a television. It caught my eye, reminded me of how I watched the Americans' match against Brazil with my mom and grandma during USA '94, and pretty much helped create the guy banging out these thoughts right now.

Anyway, Owen and I go way back. His departure from Liverpool for greater glories was always sad, but I never held a grudge. During the Super Cup in 2005, when Cissé came on, I agreed with the Liverpool supporters in Monaco who lustily rang out with, "There's only one Michael Owen!" We wanted him back. Then Cissé ended up the man of the match, thanks to an unseen handball – these sorts of things benefit us all every now and again – and I just sort of went on with things. The Newcastle move was curious, and based on money, so Owen just kind of drifted away. His injuries were always sad, but I had the 2001 FA Cup final on the DVR for a good long while and watched his goals every few months as a pleasant reminder.

But the United move this year was too much. Look, I'm not pretending I'm the only Liverpool fan to be upset by it, but there was an extra sting in the jibes of all the United fans who looked at me and smiled as they relished in Owen playing this season in one of "their" shirts. As a fan, it sucked.

Now, at least that part of this season's fan experience is over. It's not like following Liverpool during 2009-10 has been trying or anything, right? Several weeks ago, I accepted the team's fate and that it'll be a series of grinding performances. No matter what happens – finish fourth, end up lower than that, lose 9-0 at Old Trafford, beat United with an own goal deflected off Gary Neville's crotch – Liverpool's not going to be viewed in any way this season as a beaming spotlight of hope, beauty and glory. It'll be whatever it ends up being, and then we'll all start getting silly and happy for the World Cup.

It's still unfortunate that Michael Owen is winding things down with a series of injuries. The "What if?" tag was practically created with Michael Owen's career in mind. In this case, though, I'm relieved I don't have to ask, "What if Owen scores a late goal that delivers United its 19th league title?"

It's goofy being a fan like this, – especially at my age – but this is what you sign up for. It's not really enjoyable to know Michael Owen is hurt again. I'm not going to church to light a votive candle about it either.

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