Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kicked in the face

Those of you who have been peeking in here regularly probably know that I'm what the British would probably call "a bit about football".

Or, if you haven't, as we say here in the Land of the Free (Providing You Make More Than $100,000 a Year), I loves me some soccer. The Army I still serve is the Timbers Army, and I'm as proud of my green-and-white scarf - in some ways - as I ever was to wear the green of that other army, the one with the condos and the yachts (OK, trivia fans - what's the movie reference there..?).

But this isn't a great time to be a Portland supporter.
To say that we've hid a bad patch would be like saying that the Titanic had a troubled evening in the North Atlantic a hundred years ago this spring. Yesterday I had the unenviable "pleasure" of watching my club get spanked by a piss-poor expansion side from Montreal, a club that we routinely demolished when we were both down in the U.S. Second Division.

And, worse, the Boys in GreenRed LOOKED like a club going off the rails. Disorganized. Lifeless. What one of my old platoon sergeants would have described as "cotton balls" - 100% sterile. Against one of the worst defenses in the league we created something like two real attacking chances.

I can't think of a moment that summed it up better than the second half collision between Montreal's Nyassi, who was lunging for a through-ball that was headed on goal, and our goalkeeper Perkins, who ended up with a cleat to the face that tore open his nose and sent him out of the match and our chances with him. The wretched Montreal team went on to thrash us, and we lay there like a head-kicked 'keeper and simply took it.

We were a fucking disaster.

And this, in turn, brings me to the dilemma of the true supporter; whether it's of Club or Country.

I hate to keep coming back to this, but soccer is a cruel game because it is so like Life itself.

As with our lives, and with our nations, there are so many, many ways to go wrong. And, once lost, our lives, our sport, our nation are damn deadly difficult to right again. Loss and ruin, like the cold, cruel edge of the iceberg, lie just beneath the deceptively still waters ahead. One moment we seem to be gliding along listening to the band and sipping our cocktail; the next, the frigid waters are closing over our head as we try to comprehend the degree to which we have been complicit in our own fate.

Whether it is as a partisan of a soccer club or a patriot of a great nation, there is always the inclination to trust in and support the object of one's devotion. To believe that the best course is to continue to have faith that the leaders of those institutions are wise, clever, and far-seeing. That they are making decisions based on great vision and broad experience, secure in their knowledge of themselves and their craft.
And as a supporter, as a citizen, there's also the problem of power; there is very little in us as individuals. A lone angry voice floating down from the North End terraces, a puny blog against the collective "wisdom" of the Village, single vote lost in a torrent of poorly-thought, misinformed, emotionally-charged herd choices...

There's no dignity there, in kicking against the pricks. The temptation is to simply close our eyes and hope.

But what if that hope is a fool's hope?
Or, worse, what if it enables those whose task is supposed to be "leading" - leading our club, leading our country - but who are blinded by self-satisfaction, or misinformation, or prejudices, or bone-stupid, or misplaced loyalty?

When does it become the task of the "supporter" to support not the Front Office but the club itself? Not the President, or the Congress, but the nation?

Or, worse; when does it become so painfully obvious that there is no solution in sight? That the entire system is so violently distorted that the answers cannot come from the inside, as the inside of the system is presently constituted.

What does a True Supporter do, then?

Because at the moment, staring over the bloodied rag that we're holding to our shattered face, we seem to be facing a crisis; one of the many we have faced, will face, in the history of our nation and our club. And a supporter, and a citizen, are called upon to lend themselves to their countries.
But how can we both support them and change them? How can we love them yet hate what they have become? Where do we cross the line, between Reformation and Revolution? Where is the divide between a rough caress and a kick in the face?

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