This is not the post I had anticipated writing as my season opener. I had planned to kick it all off again with an essay entitled The Season After The Season Before in which I lamented the unfairness of Spurs’ omission from the Champions League after Chelsea’s elevation to European football’s zenith. At the time I had never experienced anything quite as heartbreaking. I even cried as Bayern Munich continually and wantonly threw away every match-winning chance they were presented with.
Then the Euros came around and the domestic season was by and large forgotten. I was overcome with positivity. Football had once again shown just how united people can be, putting aside any differences in the quest for the sporting ideal. I signed off in my last post in a buoyant mood, marvelling at life’s greatness, eagerly anticipating the summer and making plans for the season ahead.
Things change rapidly. At the end of July, Nina and I lost our unborn second child. Lost. How incongruous a word to describe such an experience. It suggests misplacement, absent-mindedness, neglect. It does not adequately sum up what we have been and are presently going through. Our grief cannot be quantified with words and for somebody who claims to be able to put his thoughts and feelings across by using these means of communication, I am for once bereft.
I had been looking forward to dedicating numerous posts this season to the documenting of our growing family as I had done so with Bonnie. Worrying about, but secretly relishing the possibility of having a split allegiance household or obsessing about the potential of having two girls who showed no interest in football and thus performed the Pantomime of the Remote Control with me every time Spurs were on the television. Sadly, this was not to be. It emphatically proves the point that envisioning futures is ultimately futile and is not conducive to emotional well-being. Whilst we are too busy seeking our Golden Visions, we neglect the mundane here and now at our peril.
As a result of our personal tragedy, I have seriously questioned whether I would be able to dedicate myself to writing weekly posts on a sport that, for all intents and purposes, is as trivial as lost receipts or bus timetables. I cannot believe that I am the same person who got so irate about the BBC’s coverage of the European Championships that I was prompted to write a letter of complaint. Or that I got so enveloped with seething hatred of divisive personalities as insignificant as John Terry or Harry Redknapp that I would criticise and parody them with regularity. Worrying about whether enough people were reading my work whilst obsessively and furtively checking Google Analytics, every time Nina’s back was turned. It just all seems so infantile and irrelevant now.
I’ve made such a big deal over the lifetime of this website of the fact that football is a force that transcends what happens on the pitch. Hence why I have continually searched for narrative strands with links to other aspects of wider culture and society in these posts. Hence why I have always sought to challenge myself with different forms of writing whether that be in the shape of literary homages or mock interviews. I have always considered that those of you who have continued to come back week after week do so because you appreciate the fact that I have tried to do something that is a world away from the deluge of match reports and rants that bloat the internet.
However, in the end I’ve come to the conclusion that football genuinely doesn’t mean anything at all in the great scheme of things. The van Persie saga passed me by with little more than a shrug of indifference. John Terry’s acquittal should have had me spewing bile and venom but it didn’t. Is Joey Barton ranting on Twitter again? So he is. There are some things that are just that much more important to attend to.
This isn’t to say that I have undertaken a path of futilism; that I am turning my back on football and documenting it as I have done so for the last two years. Far from it. What I am trying to say is, that it is absolutely fine that football is as irrelevant and throwaway as bubble gum. It’s fine to lose oneself in the insignificancies of whether van Persie and Wayne Rooney can play together or that the appointment of Redknapp and Mick McCarthy as pundits on Match of the Day could signal the final death knell for a much-cherished national institution in terminal decline. Or why Brendan Rodgers will fail at Liverpool. Or the never-ending mishaps of Mario Balotelli. Or anything else in the ongoing soap opera that is football.
Because like a glamorous soap opera flickering and dazzling on numerous television screens within the Brazilian favelas, football anaesthetises us all, for a short time at least, from the mundanity, frustration, worries and pain we all have to deal with in our day-to-day lives.
As I said, this isn’t the post I had anticipated writing as my season opener. I don’t know whether sharing such intimate information with strangers was a wise thing to do. But if anything, Dispatches is my form of catharsis. And football is its platform. Other people talk to counsellors, some resort to drinking, others bottle it up. I write. And it would have been fraudulent of me to begin the season with some frothy little homespun yarn. The events of the last few weeks in my family’s life didn’t deserve that. So I apologise for the candour but if you’re still reading after all this time, you’d expect nothing less than what’s been on my mind. Luckily, I have an amazing wife and a beautiful daughter who keeps us focused and sane on a daily basis. This is the here and now and I am thankful for this.
Have a good season, whoever you support.
Follow Dispatches throughout the season on Twitter: @Sofalife