Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Crying Game

Webster's on-line dictionary defines the word obsession as,
“an unhealthy and compulsive preoccupation with someone or something.”
and, more worryingly,
“The worst and laziest way to begin a Facebook Note.”

I have held unhealthy and compulsive preoccupations with many subjects over the years. Hanging on to them for a while as though they were the very reasons the universe still expanded. Unlike the universe, however, these obsessions tended to be fleeting, passing notions that inevitably contracted and disappeared. Much like the end of the universe, really, if you have an unhealthy, preoccupied interest in its fate.

As a boy my obsessions seemed to be Stretch Armstrong, plastic toy soldiers and Liverpool Football Club, moving onto girls as I grew into a little man.

As a little man I ditched Stretch Armstrong for an Action Man, traded the plastic toy soldiers for a guitar, kept Liverpool Football Club and found girls even harder to move on as I grew into a big man with a guitar.

As a big man I find the only constant since the mid-70’s to still hold my interest is Liverpool Football Club, having cracked the girl and guitar thing some time back, and, by cracked, I mean I practiced a lot in my room alone.

Now, I’m not from Liverpool. Anyone who hears me talk will instantly acknowledge the Northampton twang that is recognised the world over. When I’m in London I’m asked what part of Birmingham I’m from. In Birmingham I’m labelled a Cockney. In Florida I was considered Australian and a mate and I were threatened with physical violence from Northampton Town fans whilst sitting in the Northampton Town home end for not sounding Northampton enough.
I digress and obsess. I realise that your time is precious and the universe will be contracting before we know it.

I’m not from Liverpool and as you can see from the above I hold no real affection for my home town team, its supporters or any other parts of the world really due to their indifference to me and mine to them. Other than Liverpool Football Club.
My great and lasting affection.

It was 1977. Cup Final day. My little mate James Legge and I were playing in my front room with the TV showing the showcase game, Liverpool v Manchester United. James was a Liverpool supporter but I wasn’t really watching the game, choosing instead to see if Stretch would live up to his name and traverse our cream leather sofa and music centre. Liverpool and I were about to meet.

The details of the game are irrelevant other than the result and what it did to James. Liverpool lost the game 2-1 and young Leggey burst into floods of tears right before me and Stretch Armstrong’s eyes. I’d never seen James cry before. At 10 he was a year older than me and nothing made him cry. Not when he fell in British Bulldog, when he was tackled by the tough girl from up the street, to when his favourite plastic toy soldier became wedged tight in my bike’s handlebars. James was the toughest 10 year old I knew but here he was blubbing like a baby because a football team had lost a match. I looked towards the TV. Hmmm, must be something in supporting this Liverpool team, I thought. If it can reduce James Legge to tears it must be more powerful than all the toy soldiers I owned. I had made a decision. From that day forth I would be a Liverpool supporter like James.

It was a pure and happy coincidence that my decision to choose Liverpool Football Club as my drug of choice was exactly the same time that they embarked upon the most glorious and successful era in their history. Five FA cup victories would follow, seven League Cups, eight League Championships, one UEFA Cup and five European Cups. It was a great time for James to start to cry.

I’m no longer that 9 year old kid who had the incredibly long stretchy arms you could wrap around a tree until they snapped off through wear and tear (I’m talking about Stretch Armstrong). 33 years down the line and it’s a race between the universe and my waistline, both still expanding. Liverpool Football Club is still there. Nowhere near as successful as when I started supporting them, their last major championship over 20 years ago now. They still try and compete with richer, more successful teams.

My two eldest children both support Liverpool now, with no encouragement from yours truly. After all, I could hardly dangle a wealth of trophies won in their lifetime to tempt them, could I? They just seem to have picked up on the constant hope I place in Liverpool results year after year and I see their support of my team (their team now) as the ultimate act in the father-son bond . Even my two year old daughter proffers “Liddiepool” every time she sees a red shirt on the TV.

It’s strange, therefore, what leads us into a lifetimes obsession. If James had cried with tears of joy when Manchester United had won in 1977 how would that have changed me? Supporting Manchester United? More chance of becoming a ballerina. Much more preferable and let’s face it – not even an expanding universe and Leggey's tears would have turned me into a Manc!

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