Being a fan at the 20 mile marker

If you have ever run a marathon, you can attest that a moment comes (generally after the 20 mile mark) when you ask yourself, “What in the hell am I doing out here?”

You come to the somehow until-at-that-moment unknown conclusion that no one has forced you to spend your day running, to spend months training, or to spend your own money on this self-imposed torture. It is only during your misery that you realize that this was all your own doing, your own choice, and it’s really not fun. Not in that moment. And you are likely to have the sudden idea that, if you wanted to, you could just walk away from the pain. Even during the race, you can quit. This isn’t a test.

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But you don’t. 

You drag your sore and depleted ass across the finish line and then, two days later, you sign up for another marathon, thinking it will be better next time.

Here’s the thing: even if there is a better time, you’ll me miserable again. It’s as if you thrive on it. Survival seems to be enough.

Looking at Nashville SC fans on social media this season, I’m beginning to think that soccer fans in general, or at least those who get really engaged, are of the same breed.

With almost any other sport, we would be happy enough with what is going on with this—remember—two year old franchise. You simply don’t jump into the playoffs right away in other sports. But MLS has other examples, even more successful examples (e.g. Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC), so we know what can be done, unlikely as it is (it’s like knowing a friend who ran a sub 3 hour marathon. It happens, but it ain’t likely). 

So, while I understand pain and suffering, I cannot help but wonder if, as a whole, we shouldn’t be enjoying this a little more.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m neither prescribing how people should feel nor suggesting that there aren’t things to complain about. As a tortured fan myself (and as a person who swears off marathons at every finish line), it’s not like I’m not familiar with the territory. It’s more that, I struggle to think what creates this psychotic illness we all experience.

My best guess is that it has a lot to do with how thin the line is between success and failure in soccer. The difference between a multitude of draws and a multitude of wins is one goal each game. It’s as simple as that. And there is never a game where you can’t point to a missed opportunity, a questionable call by the ref, multiple Monday night morning managerial decisions you would have made differently that would have won the game.

It’s no wonder that the classic books about soccer all stress how maddeningly miserable it is to be fan.

Because it really feels as if it comes down to just that. One decision, one call, one kick. If only one thing had changed, we would have won. And it happens over and over again. Especially this season. And we don’t walk away. We can’t walk away.

And the thing is, we know that while there are likely to be moments of release on a long enough time line, that will not be the case for the vast majority of your experience. And while this is true every soccer season (i.e., Wins are great, except they are likely to be followed by losses), this season is especially painful because of the multiple draws. Get your ass kicked 4-1, and, while it hurts, you don’t imagine that it could have been otherwise.

Draw, and you inevitably know it could have been otherwise. You don’t think, “Wow, that could’ve been a loss.” You only remember those moments that could have been a win.

All that said, I’m just grateful—so very grateful—that there are so many others of you psychotic weirdos out there to suffer with me.

Woulda coulda shoulda.

Next season, we’re gonna win ‘em all.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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