That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘chelsea’

A Story For Christmas, 2017

Posted by kozemp on December 27, 2017

In the last week I’ve been asked why I am a Devils fan and why I am a Chelsea fan.

The answer to why I’m a Devils fan is pretty boring. I didn’t pay attention to hockey until I lived in New Jersey, and the person I started watching hockey with was a Devils fan. And here we are. As stories go it’s not exactly Jane Eyre.

The answer to why I’m a Chelsea fan is (I hope) a little more interesting.

When I first started watching soccer I spent a lot of time researching… well, researching everything. The different teams, the leagues, and eventually where you could go to watch games. This was 2004, mind, a long time before this insane golden age when the game is on anywhere and everywhere all the time. Back then short of maybe one game a week you might get on your local cable operator, if you wanted to watch soccer you had to go to a bar to do it.

And, again, not just any bar like you can now. As I recall, when I started my research on where I could go to watch games on a predictable basis, there were three places in the entire city of Philadelphia where you could do it. Two of them were right in the heart of Center City, and one was this place out in Olde City, right on the edge of Queen Village, that I’d never heard of. “The Dark Horse Pub.”

I spent a good long while trying to determine where to go and eventually decided that this Dark Horse place would probably be easiest and cheapest to park at.

I walked into this bar on a Monday afternoon and watched an absolutely dreadful goalless draw between Charlton and Southampton and before I knew it I was at that bar basically every weekend for almost ten years. I was working there. More or less my entire social life – and at the start I’d been sober for about 5 years – revolved around this soccer bar in Olde City for a decade.

I get that it was a little strange. I got it even at the time.

At the beginning, though, for the longest time I would just go and watch games. I didn’t care who was playing. I knew that I needed to watch more, especially if I wanted to understand what was going on. I started watching soccer – actually really watching it – with the 2004 Olympics and I distinctly recall not knowing why some balls that went over the line were goal kicks and some were corners until sometime in October. I could have googled the rules, I suppose. I’m not sure why I didn’t; for some reason I was determined to learn through osmosis, I suppose. Those days I would just get up and go to the Dark Horse and watch.

I learned quickly enough that some things were “bigger” than others. One of the last games I remember watching as a pure neutral was Manchester United v. Arsenal in October of 2004, which would have been Arsenal’s 50th game in a row without a loss but for some unfortunate events involving Wayne Rooney with Sol Campbell, and Ruud van Nistelrooy with Ashley Cole.

I didn’t care who was playing – at the time I barely KNEW who was playing – but I remember that day, sitting along the rail in the old Rigger Bar next to two Newcastle fans, with astonishing clarity.

I wasn’t a neutral for too long after that. I can’t recall exactly when, but an indeterminate number of weeks later – not too many – I was sitting in the main bar when some guy walked up to me.

“I see you here all the time, man, who’s your team?” he asked.

I said, “I don’t really have one. I just like watching. I’m kinda new.”

This random guy sort of looked just over the top of my head – he was and still is several inches taller than me – tilted his head to the side a bit and shrugged slightly, a gesture I have seen uncounted thousands of times since.

“Well, hey, man,” he said, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate a large group at the front of the bar. “Come hang out with us.”

Now understand: the time when I first started watching soccer was the absolute nadir of my existence. I was more miserable and unhappy and antisocial then than I have ever been at any point in my life. Not by choice, mind, just sort of by default. I’d learn eventually (really eventually, in some cases) that all of those things were fixable, but back then? On that day, in that month, in that year, in that place? The odds that I agree to the suggestion that I go hang out with a bunch of strangers are about 3,720 to 1.

I have replayed this situation in my head many, many times over the years, and the conclusion I keep coming to is this: I do not, for the life of me, understand why I said, “sure, okay,” and walked over to talk to those people. I have tried many times to figure out why but in addition to the mists of time – which grow ever mistier as the time gets farther and farther back – there’s some sort of weird mental block that is obscuring my thoughts at the time.

That day I went over to the front of the bar with this weird random guy to meet a bunch of random strangers – aka the ninth circle of social anxiety hell – and I’m fairly certain that I was a Chelsea fan by the time I left a few hours later. In the thirteen years since I have traveled with those people. I’ve been to Chelsea games all over the country with them. I’ve been to Chelsea games in other countries with them. I’ve been to their weddings. We have our own little Christmas party every year. I’ve been to their FAMILIES’ Christmas parties. I’ve spent thousands of hours over the years watching soccer games with them, and thousands of hours more not watching games, just hanging out.

I’ve been to their funerals.

And I have no idea why I started with them. For all of it, all these good and bad things that have happened to me over the years because I said “yes” and walked over and started talking with that group at the front of the bar, I cannot tell you what should be a simple thing: I can’t tell you why. And I need to know why. I don’t mean in this specific case – almost everything I do, every driving impulse I have, is because at the end of the day, I need to understand “WHY?”

I’m not claiming divine providence or anything specifically unnatural acted on me that day, but…

Look.

What we do matters, yes. I can’t imagine any reasonable argument against that, but more and more I am convinced that the reasons why we do those things matters just as much. Maybe more. Intent matters. Context matters. Symbolism or meaining or whatever you want to call it matters. Our lives may be the sum of the things we do but intent and context and symbolism and meaning make up the sum of what we ARE, and I am content to say that what we are is just as critical to being humans as what we do.

Yoda teaches us that “luminous beings are we,” which means that there’s no outward or physical manifestation of the most important parts of us. I tend to think Yoda is right about pretty much everything, but in this case I’m as sure about it as I am about anything, because if Yoda is wrong then Thomas Hobbes is right and our existence is nothing but a series of transactions from cradle to grave, a zero-sum game where no one ever adds anything to the world. And speaking in my capacity as the best poker player you know* I am here to tell you that is not what life is. It absolutely positively is not. I am more sure of this than I am of anything in this world. I have seen and heard and been a part of too many things the rational part of my brain cannot explain, too many extraordinary, inexplicable, magical things for that to be true. I have seen lives changed – forever, irreversibly, profoundly changed – by a few words or a simple gesture.

My life was forever changed for the better by five words in a bar and I guarantee that without them there is zero chance I’m here today sending out this silly little Christmas email for the 10th time or whatever it is. A life for five words.

We can change lives. The lives we change can change others. At the end of the day when the chips are counted, we can all be ahead. That’s the sort of power we have, all of us, and if comic books have taught me anything it’s that power needs to be wielded wisely, and “wielded wisely” is just another way of saying that intent matters. That symbolism matters. That “WHY?” matters. Our existence deforms the universe, like the lady in the comic book said, and THAT is responsibility.

So be good, for goodness’ sake.

Merry Christmas, all.

JLK

* Unless one of you knows Daniel Negreanu.

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IM Fun: Reading comprehension FTW.

Posted by kozemp on November 14, 2010

Hackett: Chelski win?

Me: Ugh.
Me: Lost 3-0 at home to Sunderland.
Me: Terry and Alex both out hurt, playing without CBs is not good.

Hackett: Wow.
Hackett: I really didn’t know.
Hackett: That’s great!

Me: You’re a whorebag.

Hackett: I used to be.
Hackett: I’m monogamous now.

Me: No.
Me: You’re not a whore.
Me: You’re a whoreBAG.
Me: You’re the little fake Prada purse the whore carries her condoms and lube in.

Hackett: … that was a pretty awesome insult.
Hackett: I bow to your ability.

Me: Damn right.

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ENGLAND PREVAILS: Something just broke.

Posted by kozemp on August 16, 2010

I realize we have only now finished – or are, at least, one game from finishing – the first weekend of the EPL season, and oh what wondrous and strange things happened in that opening weekend, but before we get into that let me spend a quick moment talking about international football, more specifically the England National Team.

I no longer give a shit about it.

For most of my soccer-watching career I’ve been an ardent supporter of England alongside the US, but somewhere along the line…

Actually, scratch that. It’s not some nebulous thing I can’t pin down. I can pin it down exactly: I stopped caring about England at 2:30PM on June 12, 2010. It’s as though before that game my brain was a single-pole-double-throw switch that traveled between England and the USA, but once the ball got kicked off it got permanently stuck on the USA side. And it wasn’t even the result: almost the second the game started I knew, just KNEW, that I wasn’t an England fan anymore. If they hadn’t been drawn together in the World Cup, I dunno, I might still be splitting my support across the Atlantic. It’s distinctly possible. But from here on out, England is just another side as far as I’m concerned.

Now, admittedly, there was a lot of buildup to this moment. Being an England fan is a lot like being a religious fundamentalist*: you have to very pointedly and forcefully ignore the fact that your beliefs cannot be reconciled with any sort of empirically verifiable reality. England fans tend to cling to a belief in some sort of sporting “destiny” when it comes to international football, as though their status as the “birthplace of the game” (which, in actual fact, England is not) grants them special powers placing them above and beyond all the game’s other practitioners.

The obsession with “history” as it relates to the sport may be English football’s most maddening aspect. Here, we treat sports history as remembrance (“I was at Game 6 of the 93 World Series when Mitch Williams gave up that home run to Joe Carter”) or foundation (“Wilt Chamberlain changed the way basketball was played”) or trivia (“Jerry Rice is the all-time leading scorer in the NFL who wasn’t a kicker”). Among English football fans history is like the Force, an actual thing that presses up against and exerts actual physical influence on current events. It affects the outcome of games – you will often hear things like “well, [Team X] had never won at [Ground Y] before today, so it’s no surprise they lost this one, history was against them” and it’s not meant poetically or metaphorically. Statements like that are taken as perfectly literal. Ian Fleming once wrote “the cards have no memory,” but he appears to be the only Englishman ever born to grasp that fundamentally simple idea.

(It is worth nothing, though, that Fleming spent large portions of his life in the Caribbean, where the tropical sun probably cooked his brain well past the medium-rare of the average English person. It is also worth noting that he was such a disgusting pervert that his very name is synonymous with horrifying debauchery, i.e. “that guy is an Ian Fleming-level sicko.” So maybe we should take what he says with a grain of salt or two.)

So, in the first place, you have the wider sporting culture’s belief that games and leagues and championships are, for all intents and purposes, decided by midi-chlorians. Then you add to that the fact that the English press in general, and the sporting press many many many times moreso, seems to be not so much an enterprise designed to collect and organize facts so that the general populace can be kept informed, but is more a gigantic nationwide contest to see who can make up the most nonsensical and outrageous horseshit and get the most people to ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT. Combine those two bizarritudes with the yet-lingering socio-psychological aftereffects of the loss of empire and weather that averages almost 150 rainy days per year** and you have a recipe for a sports culture that does not, for lack of a better term, exist on the same plane of reality as the rest of us.

Okay. Now that we have established that thanks to English insanity and the Hand of Gaul my international football fandom has finally been limited strictly to the good old US of A, let’s get on with a look at the weekend results in, er, the English Premier League.

(Partially because talking about this week’s MLS results, given what happened at PPL Park on Saturday, will only push my blood pressure past the redline.)

There actually isn’t a whole lot to say on the Chelsea front, really. We’ve gotten to a point anymore where beating somebody 6-0 isn’t too terribly far from routine. Chelsea set a Premiership record for goals last season and scored 5 or more a whopping 8 times, and aside from the Benayoun “upgrade” – God it makes me want to puke just typing that – this year’s side looks leaner and meaner that last year’s.

I suppose the big news from Saturday is that we actually HAD to score 6 goals to move into first-day-first-place. I was at the pub early to watch the Villa-West Ham match with Tom and Keith, and at halftime when I checked the scores on my phone I said, “holy fuck, Blackpool is up 3-0 at the JJB.”

I believe Tom’s reaction to that was, “shut the hell up.”

Blackpool would, of course, finish 4-0, leading me in the space between games to lament that we’d have to score 4 just to get into a tie for first. When we hit 4-0 I shouted, “woohoo! First place!” After we scored the fifth I looked up the odds and found that a 6-0 Chelsea final was only 9/2. After our sixth in the 91st minute Tom and Keith started getting up to go and I said, “where the fuck are you going? This could still finish 8-0.”

They seemed persuaded by that to stay the last 2 minutes.

On our way out, a quick jaunt around the headlines from the Premiership from the rest of the weekend:

HOLLOWAY DOESN’T QUITE GET WHY HE’S HERE, WEARS CUFFLINKS. Dateline: the bowels of the JJB. Okay, seriously, what the fuck. Ian Holloway – IAN FUCKING HOLLOWAY! – coaches Blackpool – BLACKPOOL! – to an opening day 4-0 away win, and Ollie’s response is “we’re not going to get carried away.”  You’re a decent manager, Ian. Yes. We know that. But you’re also supposed to be a reliable quote machine. Get on the fucking stick.

SO, BASICALLY, YOU’RE FUCKED. Dateline: the blue end of Manchester. Citeh manager Roberto Mancini has left Welsh striker-slash-psychopath Craig Bellamy off of both his 25-man Premier League roster and his 23-man Europa League roster, but has indicated that he will not sell Bellamy to another EPL club. In other news, Roberto Mancini is kind of a dick.

THOSE WHO ARE IGNORANT OF HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO PLAY FOR CITEH. Dateline: still Manc/Blue. Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany has claimed that his club’s absurd-by-even-Roman’s-standards spending this summer is “good for English football,” that “everybody is enjoying it,” and that “nobody was complaining about having a top four.” In other news, Vincent Kompany is blind and deaf, and lives in a cave, and is fucking stupid.

MAYBE HE WAS DISTRACTED BY THE SHIRT. Dateline: Blackburn (eeewww). Everton loses to Rovers 1-0 when USMNT keeper Tim “Timmy Two-Times” Howard, in a move that almost exactly replicated Petr Cech’s blunder against Turkey at Euro 2008, catches a perfectly innocent ball and then while coming down drops it at an opposing player’s feet, who goes on to score. Asked for comment, Howard remarked after the game, “Jesus H. Christ that kit is ugly.”

AND HILARITY ENSUED. Dateline: the Merseyside dole queue. Pepe puts it in his own net. The match finishes 10-on-10. Joe Cole’s contribution to Liverpool’s first 4 games will last a total of 45 minutes. The guy Joey tried to kill gets himself sent off in the end. Nobody wins. Both of these teams still think they’re good enough to win something, anything. Everyone everywhere laughs their asses off.

MARTIN WHO? Dateline: Villa Park. Aston Villa puts on a delightful display and dismantles a woeful West Ham 3-0. Avram Grant, Mick McCarthy and Alex McLeish console their teams by showing Jon Stewart’s “what’s happening right now is the only thing that’s happening” clip on the locker room TVs.

That’s all the good stuff, for now. See you this time next week. (One hopes.)

JLK

* I’m not talking about all religious belief here, just “God created the earth in 6 24-hour days 4000 years ago” kind of stuff.

** Philadelphia, by comparison, averages around 90.

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