This is a guest post by Isaiah, BFB founding father and one damn fine writer. He is @rockofthune on Twitter.
With the speed of a hand pulling a plastic ball out of a hopper, the world seemed to flip upside down. A growing sense of bravado, a feeling of skill and power cultivated over the course of months, was all blown to smithereens in an instant, turned into sweaty-palmed quaking. It was Bayern Munich and we are all going to die. There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. They say dogs can smell fear, that they become more aggressive at its scent; if dogs could smell #fcblive they would have gone mad with blood lust.
When I received the texts saying we had drawn Bayern, I realized that I’m no longer afraid.
I’ve worn Barça hats throughout the last decade or so (interchanged randomly with Kansas Jayhawks hats and once a surprisingly long-lasting Nike Total 90 hat that I got for free somewhere and found comfortable) and on game days I often don a home or away jersey, depending on where the team is playing. Today I even wore a Barça jacket because of the slight chill in the air. I also babble endlessly about formations, tactics, and individual matchups while my wife zones out or simply leaves the room. I get shout outs for my team affiliations from random strangers and I get to smugly sneer at the backs of those who wear Real Madrid shirts. I refer to the club as “we” and my wife knows to walk with a lighter tread when they lose (especially when it’s Kansas in the tournament).
There was a time, not all that long ago, in fact, that I would have been terrified. It would have been a secret fearfulness, hidden behind anger and chest-pounding; fear would have driven me to write a preview focusing on minutiae and using war-imagery instead of, you know, having talent. But the “we” I often use for my favorite sports teams is just a default setting in my brain for wanting to belong and belonging is something that I do thanks to the part about watching and enjoying, not the part about crowing to others foolish enough to fail to join my cool crowd of winners. The flip side of that is, of course, the tears and anguish when I am shown, by dint of my team losing, that I am no longer part of the cool crowd of winners. Now I am the own who should be ashamed to wear my Barça gear in public until the next season. Or some such. There is spillover into the pre-match hype, the corporate-sponsored Champions League draws; fear grows ever greater.
Going in to the Barça-Espanyol match there was the knowledge that a loss would in all likelihood see Real Madrid take the top spot in La Liga and probably the title at the end of the season. A draw could result in that doomsday scenario where the top 2 were tied on points and Real Madrid’s extra goal at home would mean Barça lost—again!—thanks to a worse head-to-head record. A visit to Sport produced a headline to the effect of “Holy Monkeys, Batman, Win or Go Home!” A visit to EMD provided “adlfuweofiuasdlfjadfs”. Marca had something about celebrities disrobing on social media. This, after a day of fraught Barça Twitter chatter about how we’re all going to die when Pep Guardiola strides into the Camp Nou in his open-sided trousers, was enough to crush any knowledgeable fan.
But I am not afraid. I shouted with joy and consternation throughout the Espanyol match, depending on the particular details of the moment. But I also read a series of Sandra Boynton books to my daughter—Hippos Go Beserk really is the best—and it was actually really fun. I paused during Oh My, Oh My, Oh Dinosaurs right at my favorite line (“Dinosaurs crammed in an elevator”–you parents know what I’m talking about) to pass judgment on Mateu Lahoz’s farcical decision to send off Jordi Alba. And I walked out with 10 minutes to go because my wife had finished preparing dinner. Sure, I raced back to check as soon as the meal was over, but I wasn’t afraid.
That’s the difference between me now and me during the Rijkaard years: I’m not afraid of losing. If we lose, I’ll be sad because I’m a competitive so-and-so, but I’m not afraid. Losing happens. Sometimes a lot if you stick around long enough. When I first began watching this team play, they were hardly the world beaters they are today. They lost and they kind of lost often. Then they won sometimes and that was great too. And when they kept winning and winning and stopped losing basically ever, fear that they could lose started to creep in. It was around every corner, every match was do-or-die. What if Madrid could claim to be better than us because we didn’t crush, say, Hercules or Celta Vigo? What if the guy who sits down the hall behind his Real Madrid-adorned cubicle wall gets to stop by and annoyingly click his wedding ring on his coffee cup while asking how the weekend went? I want to do that to him.
Now I don’t worry about that, though I still wonder who would marry a madridista. Now I read up on the team in my spare time and I don’t wake up before big games with my heart in my throat. I still shout obscenities at TVs during games (some habits never die) and I would probably never visit Mateu Lahoz’s optometrist, but for now I’m a happier fan and I don’t even have the vitriol I had during that one insane run of Clasicos that basically killed everyone in the world, even if they’d never heard of Jose Mourinho’s stupid face.
I belong because this is my team. I belong whether we win or lose. I belong because this is a team that matters to me, personally. But now I am not afraid. And it is wonderful.