Topic: English Premiership
Fulham are going down. Probably. They've still got a chance, but it's not looking good. Like many Americans, I am a Fulham fan. And, like many Americans, I have never been through this before.
Relegation pain is unique. It's gradual and incremental, with flashes of hope that only prolong the suffering. It's more like a gutshot than a bullet to the brain - the suffering unfolds slowly, in stages, with the outcome becoming more apparent with each passing moment.
I can't explain this condition to my non-soccer-loving friends. It's an experience that Bill Simmons hasn't documented. I feel a need to record my symptoms so that Americans can understand this affliction that the Europeans have brought over. Maybe Nicholas Kristof will chronicle my plight. Mabye little rubber bracelets will draw attention to the horrors of this condition. Bono might get involved (though maybe not - he supports Celtic). I must speak. The world must know:
The Seven Stages of Relegation:
Stage 1: Naive Optimism. Soccer players are a bit like race horses - they're evaluated largely by pedigree. Fulham's opening day roster had some pedigree. Danny Murphy is ex-Liverpool, who are politely included in the Big Four. David Healy holds the record for most goals scored in European qualifying, and no one ever went wrong in soccer basing their evaluations on goal-scoring statistics, right? The manager, Lawrie Sanchez, had great success managing Wycome Wanderers - they absolutely tore apart my rec team (they were winning 4-1 when we had to clear the field for marching band practice). And we avoided relegation last year by one whole point! Who else here has their sights set on European football in 2008!?!
Stage 2: Tinkering. A few weeks into the season, it was clear that the team needed...let's say "adjustments". Specifically, Brian McBride's tibia needed to be adjusted to be roughly in line with his femur. Also, it was not yet clear whether Stephen Davis should be played in the center, played on the wing, or shot into deep space. Still, there was time, and reinforcements were coming from, um, Crystal Palace, and with Lawrie Sanchez applying the same deft tactics that helped Northern Ireland almost not fail to qualify for Euro 2008, the ship would still be righted, right? Right?
Stage 3: Hatred of Chris Baird. Is Chris Baird's dad really powerful or something? Does he possess compromising photos of important people? What I'm asking is: what was it that kept this man on the field for so long? Was it the same thing that's keeping Andy Rooney on TV? With all of Fulham's contacts with America, why didn't they just pick any - literally any- right back from MLS? They're all better than Chris Baird.
Stage 4: Denial/False Hope. I don't think that Mohamed Al-Fayed celebrates Christmas, but I sure celebrated when he fired Lawrie Sanchez in December. With that act alone, things started looking up. After all, surely the new coach wouldn't make the same mistake that Sanchez had made: buying players based on reputation alone, then sticking with those players for too long in a stubborn attempt to avoid admitting a mistake. Besides, Bullard and McBride were coming back, and Bolton was horrible, and Derby was already down, and Wigan is a rugby town, so there's nothing to worry about, right? Right?
Stage 5: Xenophobia. You know who's fault this all is? Foreigners. Specifically those filthy fucking Irish: Baird and Healy and Davis and Aaron Hughes...they're the ones to blame. They come here and they take jobs away from hard working Americans, and look what happens. None of this is the Americans' fault. Bocanegra, Dempsey, and Keller aren't seeing enough minutes, and it's all because of their sneaky English coach. The English have always favored the Irish.
Stage 6: Bitterness/clinging to God, guns. This is all a test. The penalty kick against Newcastle, the hand ball goal against West Ham...it seems like everyone is out to screw us right now - and they undeniably are - but you know how we can get through this? Faith. A little good, old-fashioned, faith - you know, the kind of faith that causes God to give you stuff. You've read snippets of the bible - ask and it shall be given unto you. Well, God, if you're listening, I would like to hold onto a one-goal lead. And if we can't, I'm going to get a gun and shoot Chris Baird in both knees.
Stage 6: Aethism. Thanks a pantload, God. Or, should I say: "god". There is no hope - life is meaningless. We are born, we suffer, and then we die. Soccer is like life: a random series of chance encounters over which we have no control. All we can do is watch where the ball bounces and hope for a quick and relatively painless death. The sky is grey. The orb is spinning. I retire. Silence.
Stage 7: Manchester United. They are the Death Star of English soccer. They are big and powerful and have a gravity that draws you inward. Yes, they are evil, and they exist to squash the hope of smaller civilizations throughout the galaxy, leaving only the blackness of space...but, damn it, they win. Maybe I should stop being such a martyr and go over to the dark side.
But no...I've already decided: if Fulham go down, I'm going down with my team. Hell, I'm part Irish myself: I'll stick with this marriage forever no matter how bad it gets. Actually, after the comeback win at Man City last week, I'm starting to think they could stay up. Which either means that we've either begun Chapter IV: A New Hope, or that I've cycled back to Stage 4 and still have stages 5, 6, and 7 ahead of me.