Care like we do

Even mediocre films can sometimes make one think.

There is a scene in the American version of Fever Pitch—a decidedly mediocre film–in which Ben, Jimmy Fallon’s character, is out to dinner with two of his friends after their hearts had been torn apart by a recent Red Sox loss. They look up to see Johnny Damon and two other Boston players happily having a nice meal while socializing. When Ben’s friends seem to get angry that the Red Sox players are just going on about their lives while Sox fans are crestfallen, Ben comes to a sudden realization. In short, why shouldn’t the players be happy? They played their best game, they might have made some mistakes, and they lost. There will be other games where they will try equally hard but things will go their way, and they’ll win.

Those guys are professionals, Ben seems to realize, who are doing their best. Perhaps he is the one who should get a grip.

Even though the film would at best get a grade of a B- from me, that one scene has given me pause over the years as I reflected on my own fanship, especially my relation to soccer for a couple of reasons.

First, in the Nick Hornby book on which it is based, Hornby himself comes to a realization late in the book (and in his life) that while the Arsenal team he supports is made up of players who are all far, far better than is he, and all who work hard on the pitch, there is absolutely no way that they are as invested in the team as is he. He’s spent more of his life with the team, more hours at the stadium, more emotions over the course of a lifetime than have they. We soccer fans are all that guy. We are more invested for longer periods of time than any given player. We feel each game with an additional weight.

Secondly, these guys are all pros. They all work hard at their jobs. They put in the time and effort, sometimes with mixed results. While some players admittedly work at a much higher rate, none of these guys are asleep at the wheel.

I actually ponder this a lot after one of my teams loses, especially when they lose unexpectedly, or when they lose from what appear to be (and/or actually are) huge blunders by players on my team. 

If my heart is so into this, why isn’t theirs? Why do some players seem to not be working as hard on the pitch as I am in my living room or in the stands? I’m freaking angry at times.

In 2012, the Portland Timbers suffered a third round US Open Cup match against the unheralded, US Adult Soccer Association team, Cal FC, coached by Eric Wynalda.  While Portland’s then coach John Spencer promised fans that the Timbers were not going to take the game lightly, it appeared to the fans, anyway, that they had. 

How in the world does a professional MLS side lose to an amateur adult league team?

As the team walked off the field after that loss, some contingent of the Timbers Army (their famed supporters group) yelled something along the lines of “Care like we do!” to the defeated team.

I understood what they were yelling. I understood that it seemed that the team must not care as much as the fans if they lost like that.

And yet, I had to wonder, did the players not care? Did they not try hard enough? 

Hell, I wouldn’t know and neither would the crowd.  Only the manager and the players themselves would know.  I could only judge the actions on the pitch, which seemed dismal.

The other question I had to ask, however, is “What are the results of yelling at the players?”

Was it just an expression of the anger, disgust and disappointment of the fans? Would it motivate the players to try harder? Would it put more pressure on players who would then fumble things worse? Would it signal to management that something needed to change?

Honestly, while I have suspicions about the answers to these questions, they’re mostly muddled. A bit of this and a bit of that. I know I felt righteous in my anger. What I don’t know is, in balance, if the effect of such venting is for good or ill, if anything at all?

I have just enough hippie in me to think that it is always better to put positive energy into the world rather than negative, and, upon retrospect, I wish I had done that.

All the same, when I think about where the anger is coming from, I think the team (the players, the managers, and the owners) need to at the very least understand that this negative energy is always coming from a good place. It’s a sign that the fans are dedicated to the team, that they feel ownership in a way that is difficult to replicate.

I’ve been thinking about that these last few days for obvious reasons. That Miami loss was rough. And while I’m no longer one to vent my anger in public, I still feel it. While I don’t express it, others do. 

Even if I get to a place where I simply acknowledge that our players had a bad or off night but put together an effort, I still can’t shake that odd feeling of disappointment and anger.

So, ultimately, even if I get to that point of acknowledgment, I still want it that I, that we, feel pain and anger at times, that we simply want to  know that everyone “cares like we do.”

That’s not too much to ask.

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