This post has been inspired by a line written by Dan Shanoff. I think. Shanoff is a man who elevated the super-short form of writing into an artform with the Daily Quickie on ESPN.com, which he has since brought to his own website, DanShanoff.com. The heading (sub-heading?) at the top of his webpage, underneath the blog title, is BANDWAGON FANDOM? WHEN IT’S THIS BLATANT, IT’S MORE LIKE “DANWAGON”. This, of course, is a reference to a habit Shanoff has of seemingly randomly picking his teams–he started rooting for the various Florida Gators teams because (I believe) the school is his wife’s alma mater. He started rooting for the Jacksonville Jaguars because… well, I don’t really know why he did that.
The point is, Shanoff has some experience in the act of becoming a fan of a team–something that, throughout my life, I’ve had little experience in. I was raised a fan of the Flyers, Sixers, Phillies, Eagles, Penn State football, and various Big 5 basketball programs (in order, Villanova-[gap]-Temple-[big gap]-Penn-St. Joe’s-LaSalle). I cannot remember a time in my life when I had no rooting interest in these teams. Sure, I’ve had single year affairs with other teams–I liked the Golden State Warriors last year in the playoffs, and I liked the Anaheim Angels in 2002. I have, however, never rooted for any team above any of “my” teams, and with the teams I am most passionate about (Phillies, Flyers), I find it difficult to even root for other teams in the same league. Regardless, Shanoff knows what it’s like to become a fan of a team, and for most of my life, I have not. Despite the advantage of experience, it struck me as odd, if not plainly wrong, when Shanoff said something like “There’s hardly any difference between a ‘fan’ and a ‘diehard fan’–the difference is between ‘fan’ and ‘non-fan’.”
I would have sworn I read this in a Shanoff post in the past couple of weeks, but as I’m unable to find anything remotely resembling it on his blog, it’s possible he has removed it, or that someone else wrote it, and somehow I thought it was Shanoff. Or I could be hallucinating. It’s all that milk I drink, I bet.
Regardless of who said that (even if I am making it up), I intend to dispute it (even if it means arguing with myself). For the sake of the argument, I will almost exclusively use my own personal experience, which is not a remotely fallacious way to form an argument.
My experience, in this case, has taken place over the past year as, for the first time in my life, I’ve become a new fan to a team–the Liverpool Football Club.
I was like a lot of Americans when it came to soccer–I cared every four years, for the World Cup. During the WC, I, like most American, rooted for the US team till they were invariably eliminated, at which point I began to root for the country of my ancestors (Ireland). I remember really enjoying the World Cup in 2002, when it took place as I was on senior week, having just graduated high school. There were about a dozen guys (and various visiting girls) staying in a house that was owned by our friend Dave’s grandfather. This grandfather, whom I have never met, was in the habit of stealing cable. Because he had the illegal black box, the house had every channel. Because it was a crude, and often drunk lot staying in the house, various porn channels were on roughly 16 hours a day, and the remaining 8 were divided between the World Cup and that war movie with Owen Wilson. I liked the World Cup. I really enjoyed watching it, and as soon as it was over, I barely watched more than a highlight, until 2006, when it came ’round once more.
A fairly important change happened in the four years between 2002 and 2006. Namely, Andy and I became close. I’ve known Andy since about 1997/98, but we didn’t really become The Captain and Gilligan-like friends until 2003. I cannot explain how this occurred, but it did. Andy was also close with another friend of ours, named Gershwin, who was a big man from South Africa, with a deep, rippling accent, and he, Gershwin, had grown up a Liverpool fan. Gershwin’s enthusiasm for soccer and for Liverpool rubbed off on Andy. When I watched the World Cup in 2006, and decided I wanted to watch more of the Beautiful Game, Andy’s enthusiasm rubbed off on me.
2 years ago, I would classify myself, under Shanoff’s NonFan-Fan-DiehardFan system as a “NonFan”. Today, I call myself a “Fan”, but I have the tremendous upside potential, I think, to someday reach Diehard. Now, I’ve been a Phillies’ fan my entire life. I pay attention to the Phillies, and to baseball, at the expense of my interest in other sports. I’d like to contrast my interest in Liverpool FC and the Phillies and see if we can’t reach some conclusions on what it’s like to be a fan, versus a diehard fan.
Point #1: On Winning
I adore Phillies wins. They occur roughly 85 times a year, and each one improves my day. Big wins–game winning home runs, dazzling pitching performances, and any time the Phils beat the Braves or the Mets–improve my day magnificently.
I similarly adore LFC wins. They play only about one-quarter as often as the Phillies, so the games mean more on an individual basis. Additionally, they play (for an East Coast viewer) most of their games on Saturday mornings, around 10AM. This means, I can get up, have some breakfast, and sit down with my coffee and eggs and watch a team I like whip a team I dislike almost every weekend. This is a great way to start a Saturday.
Point #2: On Losses
I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my Liverpool fandom. I know who the big rivals are, generally–the other members of the Big 4 (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal), as well as the club down the street, Everton. I still, however, do not have a natural grasp of the vitality of each game played. I can accept most losses, at this point, as Something That Happens, and though they’re disappointing, I get over them fairly quickly. LFC was on the butt-end of some terrible officiating last weekend, which resulted in a draw against Chelsea. I was disappointed by this result, but I can’t say I reached the disgust of various LFC bloggers that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
Phillies losses? Well, shit. I’ve seen 1,955 Phillie losses in my lifetime. I’ll hit the personal 2,000 mark next year. I’m personally 127 games under .500. Tommy Lasorda, who’s generally an ass, said one of my favorite things about baseball a number of years ago (I’m paraphrasing): “No matter how good you are you’re going to lose 50 games. And no matter how bad you are, you’re going to win 50 games. It’s what happens in the rest of them that count”. I’m a big believer in patience, in the long run, in large sample sizes. I am also a trainwreck after losses. I’m unhappy. I do not want to go out after losses. I want to sit at home and listen to death metal. The Phils have been to the playoffs once since I was born, when I was 9 years old. They have been tantalizingly close the past few years, and when one roots for such a prude of a team, one develops something of a defeatist mentality. It’s a disaster.
On Faith and Expectation
I have faith that every summer, the Phillies will get close to the division or wildcard lead. They may even take it over, briefly. Shortly thereafter, the pitching will stumble, or the bats will go silent, or the gloves will become like stone, and they’ll between 1 and 5 games short of making the playoffs. It is likely, also, that they will win enough games that, if they played in the NL Central, they would have made the playoffs. I expect the Phillies to lose, and their losses still haunt me.
I’m not really sure what to expect from Liverpool. This spring was my first offseason as a fan, and I spent quite a bit of it just looking for LFC blogs and other sources of information. They spent quite a bit of money on players I had either never heard of, or knew little about. A lot of people who knew far more than I do were very excited. I suppose I expect the team to contend for the league title, but as long as they finish in the top 3, I’m not sure how disappointed I’ll be. “Modestly” sounds about right.
I almost always refer to the Phillies as “us” or “we”. I know I do not literally suit up for the Phillies, but they are one of Philadelphia’s team, and in that sense, they are very much mine. A team doesn’t exist without its fans, and I am, most assuredly, one of the Phillie faithful.
LFC, well, if I have referred to them by “we”, it’s been awkward. I love the team. I love learning about the history. I love watching them on the pitch, and I love hating their rivals. But I am a part of the Phillies history–they have 10,000 losses, and I’ve been a part of nearly 1/5 of them. Liverpool has 18 league titles in their history, and I’ve been a part of none of them, as a fan. I wasn’t around when they won the Champions League in remarkable fashion in 2005 (the final penalty save,–which won the game–is what Andy, a week later, called “the greatest moment in the history of any sport”). I have no involvement, as a fan, with any of their history, yet. I am a fan, but I’m not yet a small part of the fabric of their vast, and rich history.
Liverpool played, last year, in the Champions League final. I watched the game with Andy, and Gershwin, and Paul (who writes all the self-help posts), as well as Mrs Thursday and a bunch more of our friends. We watched it in a packed soccer bar in Philadelphia, and had a blast watching the game and carrying on, until it became apparent that our opponent, AC Milan, was going to win. The result was disappointing, and had LFC won, we may have stayed for the rest of the day, celebrating. But, LFC lost, and we conceded that it was a good run, and there’s always next year, and all the other things sports fans tell themselves when their team’s season has finally concluded.
If the Phillies ever win the World Series, it is possible I will explode. I will almost definitely cry. There’s a lovely book called The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In the book, a boy works in a shop for a man who, all his life, has wanted to travel to Mecca on a pilgrimage. When the boy works for the man, his business improves so much, that the merchant could go on his pilgrimage, as long as the boy stayed behind to mind the store. The man doesn’t go, however. He’s dreamed all his life of this pilgrimage, and if he goes, when he returns, he’ll have no dream left. I fear the possibility that this explains my relationship with the Phillies. My entire life, as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to watch them win a World Series. What’s left if they actually do? Regardless, at this point in my life, the Phils winning everything cannot be compared to anything Liverpool does.
This is the difference between fan and diehard. The fan watches with a level of separation–the ability to remember that this is a sport and that sports are games, and games are fun, and that all of us in the stands should be enjoying ourselves. Diehards don’t have this. The diehard realizes that each loss is la fin du monde (French for “the end of the world, Quebec for “really damn good beer”). Similarly, the fan has a lot of fun when the teams wins everything. The diehard finds something deeper and more meaningful–a feat of great skill, luck, teamwork. A miraculous accomplishment. Each win means more to him than it ever could to the fan. And that gap is far bigger, and more significant, than that between the Fan and the NonFan.