I’ll admit that, as an American of the late 20th century, my access to Premier League soccer was woefully poor. The best I could find was highlights late at night on ESPN. When I say “late”, I mean late. As in 1am on a Sunday night/Monday morning. Into the early 1990s, this posed a dilemma–how to catch up on Arsenal action without being accused of looking for other late-night, um, action. Nevertheless, I did my best.
At one point in the fall of 1991, I learned that one my most unctuous, irritating teammates on our high school team was a Spurs fan. The fact that most of us had already decided on his unctuousness was, to your astonishment, this correspondent’s introduction to the Spurs-Gunners rivalry. By this point, I had “followed” Arsenal for almost a decade without learning of the history and intensity of said rivalry. Remember, this was 1990’s United States, to soccer what early 21st century North Korea is to open debate. I digress. Later in that same year, perhaps moving into early 1992, this same unctuous teammate’s father was driving us home from an indoor soccer match. We had been utterly demolished by some other team that actually knew how to play indoor. At any rate, I was sitting in the middle bench of the minivan changing out of my socks, and the conversation progressed as follows (more or less, it’s been a while):
- Unctuous teammate: “Shay, put your socks away. They reek”.
- Me: “Give me a sec; I’m just switching to clean ones.”
- Unctuous teammate: “Shay, put ’em away!’
- Me: “two seconds and they’re in the bag.”
- Unctuous teammate: [slaps Shay across the face].
- Four other teammates: [stunned silence as Shay ponders pummeling Unctuous teammate; weighs risk of doing so at 10pm at night while said teammate’s father is driving at 60mph. He declines].
Let it be said that terms were settled later, much to unctuous teammate’s chagrin. You would hardly believe how much it altered his appearance for the worse. To shorten the story, had this been the beginning and end of my introduction to the Spurs-Arsenal rivalry, I would have reduced myself to just another frothing-at-the-mouth prosimian baying for Tottenhamian blood less than twelve hours from now.
As it stands, I learned a tamer, more civilized lesson from a dearer mate who went on to marry a girl I’ve known since I was seven or eight–’round about the same time I learned of professional soccer, professional soccer on the telly, and, most importantly, Arsenal. As the story goes, my friend, whom we’ll called Carrie for this story, had met this bloke somewhere around 1996 while I was off doing who-knows-what. She went on and on about how alike he and I were, which only made me suspicious of him. We fast-forward. He and I meet. He says something like “I’ve never seen snow before”, which I make him repeat because I’ve never heard that sentence before, he’s from Australia and has never seen snow before, and his accent is thicker than molasses in January. It was January at the time of this telling, for what that’s worth. We’ll fast-forward again. He and I are mates/buds/friends now and so on, and I just learned that he’s a Spurs fan. This forced me to weigh my allegiances–a team I love but have never seen in person against a man I respect and see much of myself in and see regularly.
The point is this (please hum “kumbayah” as you read the following): for as deep and as intense as the feelings around Sunday’s derby may be, it is, after all, just a game, and fans on both sides will go home to family and friends and jobs. Win or lose, the consequences are rather trivial.
Of course, having said all that, I’ll believe it more deeply if we’ve won. If we’ve lost, everything I’ve said to this point is little more than manure for next spring’s garden. And my Aussie mate? Pffft. Bunch of penal colony send-offs. Just kidding’. May the best team win–and we all know which team that is.