In Fever Pitch, among the pathologies of a football fan than Nick Hornby diagnoses is the tendency to draw analogies between serious world events and the game: “I tend to over-estimate the metaphorical value of football, and therefore introduce it to conversations where it simply does not belong. I now accept that football has no relevance to the Falklands conflict, the Rushdie affair, the Gulf War, childbirth, the ozone layer, the poll tax, etc, etc”.
The last week has demonstrated to me the reverse: things that happen in football sometimes feel like serious life events. For those of you who don’t know and don’t care, last Monday Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s star striker, successfully agitated for a move to rival club Chelsea. I’ve (thankfully) never had to undergo the break-up of a relationship, but that’s the parallel I reached for straightaway. And I was not alone. On the forums they said: “we have passion for this club burning in our hearts, and when someone says they love us and then just fucks off the way he has, it is just like breaking up with a girl. It hurts, and if they leave you in sh*te circumstances then you will hate them as well”. Mawkish youtube videos of his goals had (presumably) grown men in tears bemoaning their heartbreak, like jilted lovers weeping over old photographs. And honestly, on Monday at least, it didn’t feel absurd and disproportionate.
The analogy seems to fit, too. There were early flirtations. The giddy excitement of the first union. The exhilaration of its consummation ( the goal-as-orgasm metaphor is a downright cliché by now). There were professions of undying love: "They [Atletico Madrid and Liverpool] are the only two clubs that are in my heart. I have supported Liverpool since I was a boy and I intend on staying here a very long time."
And then it started to go wrong. Comments that seemed innocuous at the time, but which suggested dormant problems stored up for the future. Desperate vows to try and make it work as tensions and frustrations bubbled up to the surface. Finally he decided enough was enough, it wasn’t working and it was time to go. First there was denial, then resignation.
So we find ourselves in this odd post-break up situation. Feeling bitter, angry and betrayed and moved to petty vandalism. Upset by the very sight of him playing for someone else. And yet there’s vulnerability, too. I find myself clinging to articles like this one which assure me “his connection with the Chelsea fans will not be what it was with Liverpool” and that deep down he isn’t happy about the move. No one will ever love him like we did, and he must be lying when he says he was faking it.
Perhaps one day we’ll replay that final scene in the hackneyed film where time has passed and the wound has healed and we’ll be able to acknowledge that the time just wasn’t right, that we had to let him go. Or maybe he’ll never be forgiven.
Cynics will say that it was simply naïve to expect loyalty or reciprocation of our affection from a modern-day professional footballer. That’s what Torres seemed to suggest when he argued that “the romance in football has gone”. But most humans, not just footballers, can be selfish and instrumental. That in itself isn’t enough of a reason to never open your heart to them. Better to have loved and lost. Or something.