Dan Sinker/blog

A Boot to the Head

I woke up at 6:30 yesterday to watch soccer—football, sorry—a fact that seems absolutely insane to write. I'm not a sports person. I have never been a sports person (unless you count professional wrestling, but it's more entertainment than pure sport), and yet there I was, sleepily watching a boring match between two teams in England I could care less about—Chelsea and Liverpool—and thoroughly enjoying myself.

What happened?

Mostly what happened was I had kids 17 and 7 years ago and this is the kind of thing that happens when that happens: You love them, and so you end up loving the things they love.

But specifically what happened was back in December my older son was bored in class, as were a lot of his classmates, and they conspired—as teenagers do—to convince the teacher to let them watch a World Cup game instead of whatever the lesson she had planned was. He came home and almost sheepishly mentioned how fun it was and how we should watch a game that weekend. One game lead to another and the next thing any of us knew, we were all invested in the teams, the players, and the outcome. By the time the final between Argentina and France took place it was a whole thing at our house.

After that, a Christmas gift of a FIFA game for their Nintendo Switch sealed the deal. Everyone got competitive and winter break was defined by endless four-player tournaments that saw us parents being absolutely annihilated by our kids every damn time. From there, there was only one logical move: pick a team in England's Premier League and go all-in.

Coming up in the DIY punk scene of the 90s, there's a particular bit of poison in my brain that tells me that if something is popular it can't actually be good. And the Premier League is popular on a scale that's a little hard to fathom for someone in the US. It's not just the biggest professional football league in the UK, it's the most-watched league—of any sport—in the entire world. So to say that I was predisposed to dislike this—both not being a sports guy and also being a indie snob—is absolutely the understatement of the year.

But you know what? That particular piece of poison has probably cost me more than it's gained me and diving into this world together has been nothing but a total blast for the last month. Listening to the 17-year-old talk about the interplay of wins and losses and draws as teams moved up and down the league tables. Talking with my seven-year-old about his favorite player, Bukayo Saka. Learning about all the different towns across the UK and the various hundred-year-old feuds that fuel their rivalries. It's been a whole new world to explore at a time when all of us could use exactly that.

And yes, of course, it's a major sporting business filled with billionare owners and millionaire players and it seems like every single team is sponsored by either an online gambling company or an airline out of the United Arab Emirates, and it is absolutely all wrapped up in capitalism like a snake around a neck, and maybe all that will eventually outweigh the pure adrenaline rush that comes from watching your favorite team make an improbable goal, but for now I'm trying to accept that things can be complicated and that sometimes you can love things even though they're fucked up, and that being open to change is probably the most important thing we can do for ourselves.

Change is coming this year whether I'm ready or not. Our 17-year-old will head off to college in the fall, a change to all our lives so dramatic I can't really wrap my head around it most days. And so having a thing right now that all four of can root for feels more important than ever. Change is coming, there's no running from it, and how we'll grow from that change—what we'll learn and experience both together and apart—is what makes life worth living.

Today's game wasn't as early as yesterday's and it wasn't anything close to boring. Our team, Arsenal, (a pick we made in December almost completely arbitrarily if I'm being honest) faced off against Manchester United, a team I've come to understand is the 800-pound-gorilla of the Premier League. It was back-and-forth for the entire 90 minutes, one team scoring and then the other team catching back up ("THE EQUALIZER," the announcers screaming each time). There was not a moment the entire game that was dull, but as the clock wound down it looked like it was going to end in a draw, 2-2. Football, not the American one, can end in a tie.

And then.

And then in the final seconds of the game, there was a sudden chaotic blur of activity and the ball shot across the field, finding purchase on the extended leg of Eddie Nketiah, a young player with a preternatural ability to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and bang it was in the back of the Man-U goal, just like that, bringing Arsenal the victory, 3-2, and bringing the four of us at home up off of our dilapidated couch, cheering and screaming and laughing like that victory—thousands of miles and an entire ocean away—meant something to us.

Because it did.

Published January 22, 2023.

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