This morning I woke at 5.15am, had some coffee, and went with the dogs up the mountains. They can run around off-lead, chase rocks that are thrown for them (this is their very favourite game), have a splash around in the river, and generally have a grand old time. The only sounds are the crunching of footsteps, birds chirruping in the trees, and the dogs panting as they career up and down paths and banks, tongues lolling ever further as the walk goes on.
It’s nice. From where we live in Dublin, we’re lucky that a 15 minute drive can take you out of the city into nature. There are woods and mountains. The quiet is soothing. It gives you time to think, or even better, to think of nothing for a while. That said, my mind was whirring over what today’s blog would be about, and the thing I kept coming back to was related yesterday’s Arsecast Extra.
While discussing feeling excited about the return of football, I wondered how I would really feel about it in the wake of everything that has gone on. I have always tried to be objective about what happens at Arsenal and the game in general. It’s necessary to have some perspective about football’s importance, and over the last few months we’ve been served a very substantial portion of that. The health and well-being of everyone has been the focus.
People’s experience of Covid-19 will range from mild inconvenience, to complete upheaval; from minor illness to genuine loss and heartbreak. The lockdown that many countries put in place wasn’t to make your life difficult, it was to be part of a solution that helped protect everybody – particularly the most vulnerable in our societies. I don’t remember a time before when for so many the lives of strangers had to singularly be the major consideration. Which isn’t to say they weren’t important before, or it wasn’t something we thought about, but it became something for which we had to take responsibility in a way that required a diligence or sacrifice; almost an abandonment of what we thought life was, and what it was always going to be like.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now, the Black Lives Matter protests continue as injustice and inequality in our societies is addressed once more – and the ferocity and viciousness of authoritarian response to it should worry all of us, regardless of the colour of our skin. So football returns to a world that is very markedly different from the one we lived when it stopped. Whatever your experience of any of these things is, the idea that we just shrug it all off and get back to ‘normal’ seems absurd to me.
And yet, what is football but an escape? We invest our time and emotion and money into watching 11 men kick a ball around and hope that they’re better at it, or luckier, than the other 11 men they’re playing against. It is a thing over which we have no control, but which controls us vicariously. Your Saturday evening could be glorious and happy or miserable and frustrating because one bloke scored a brilliant goal, or another one fell over and let an opponent score.
Fine margins. Thin lines.
The whole spectacle of football provides us with a world outside of our own, and for 90 minutes – plus injury time (what do you mean there’s only 3 minutes ref?/where did you get 7 minutes from you twat?), we can forget the daily troubles. Our football bubble is the only thing that counts. It means a lot to us. We care deeply about all of it. How we play. Who we play. When we play. Who plays. Who shouldn’t play. Who we should get to play if we can sell that chump to those gimps. Who owns us. Who runs us. Who picks the team. How much money we have. Where we stand. Where we are. Where we should be. Why we are what we are. Why we’re not what we want to be. What the other clubs do. It’s endless.
In just over a week we play again. I have perspective. I know what football is to me, and where it stands in the things that matter. I am objective – I think – in that I realise this season has been one of the strangest and most surreal since I started supporting this club. If we don’t finish in the European places, it’s far more down to what came before than what we do in these last nine games. Mikel Arteta picked up the Arsenal vase which had fallen, smashed to smithereens by the decisions made leading up to his appointment, and he is slowly, carefully gluing the pieces back together. I see that.
But what happens when we play again? Does it become this thing into which we can throw ourselves as completely as before? Is every high going to be as high? Will every low feel quite as low as it might have done previously? Will the backdrop of empty stands and sounds echoing around them too strongly reflect the world outside of football for us to properly ensconce ourselves in this game we all love? Will bemoaning another defensive calamity with a string of invective – even if it’s just out loud to ourselves – feel a bit silly? How do we cope without the social aspect of football which is a huge part of why it’s so important?
I don’t know the answers. I feel like I want it to be like it was before, but I’m not sure how it can. Maybe when the games start and we score a goal and win a game we’ll know more. Maybe when one of our defenders does one of things that our defenders do, it will feel ok to be exasperated and frustrated. Maybe it won’t be as irritating as it was before, because so much has changed and we’re watching this thing which looks like the thing we lost but isn’t quite it. The football cat was buried in the pet cemetery for three months and the creature which came back to life is fundamentally different.
I don’t know. I suspect it will be different for all us, but until we see it and experience it, we’ll just have to wait and see.
The podcast from yesterday is below. All the links you need to listen/subscribe are there. Enjoy.