In which I attempt to work out some thoughts on being a sports fan using the weekend's games as fodder
Michigan some, Ohio State a lot more
Why watch a game whose outcome was never particularly in doubt? Why did I watch this same game last year, under the same conditions? Why did I watch most of the games this year? To be a Michigan fan is to be waiting for something to go wrong. This year, I learned a new variation: to be certain that something would go wrong, to have it be only a question of time. Like many Michigan fans, I've found myself emotionally disconnected despite my loyalty; like many Michigan fans, it's not clear to me how we recover from this.
Everton 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Prior to this game, I tweeted "remind me again why I'm a fan of Premier League Michigan?" It's the same general problem: disconnected coach who looks like he's in over his head, problems with ownership, fans disgruntled by the previous two, poor general play and no particular hope. Given what it spends, Spurs should always be in the top 8 of the Premier League, but have not managed to get results.
The reason to be a fan was evident in this game: Spurs have very good pieces that, when they come together, are a joy to watch. Football is often a grind-it-out affair, especially in the Premier League, but it has its moments of lightness. No one's a better symbol for that than Harry Kane, who most Spurs fans are convinced is the next great player. Which, as it turns out, is exhilarating to watch. Nobody knows how good Kane will end up being, even Kane himself. We just know he hasn't reached the limits of his talent yet. The effect is strange: fans and teammates expect something remarkable to happen every time he touches the ball. And, improbably, remarkable things often do happen, as they did in this game--solid offensive and defensive efforts. Being human, he makes mistakes and fails to follow through on a number of occasions, but there's something touching in the purity of belief in his talent. That seems like a very good reason to keep watching.
FC Barcelona 1-0 Valencia
Watching soccer is different than watching football: it arrives in 45-minute chunks, with no commercials. It takes much less time to watch a soccer match than a football game, but the compactness limits the ability to watch much of it. In football, the noon games can become the 3:30 games can become the 6:00 games without much effort, because the action is parceled out five minutes at a time with extensive breaks, the sporting equivalent of eating sugary cereal--it's there and it expects nothing of you. After the first half of this game, in which Barça was completely disorganized, I could not go on. So I missed the last-second winner from Busquets.
The last-minute winner is another way in which soccer keeps interest. American sports contests are frequently laughers, where one overmatched team loses to a superior one, and some large portion of the game is played with no real hope of changing the outcome, and only for appearances. In soccer, because every result is potentially important, and goals scored and goal differential often feature as tiebreakers for league standings, each team has a reason to play the game out to the end in every match. Nothing is ever quite hopeless--there remain in-season competitions, tournaments, and derbys which allow even the most inept of teams the chance of winning something--and there are very real costs to giving up, with the possibility of relegation.