Soccer news — a non-fan’s notes
by Rob Tiller
Last night Sally and I went out to see some professional soccer by our local team, the Raleigh Railhawks, who opposed the Tampa Bay Rowdies. We had excellent seats (second row, midfield), and could see how young the players were, how skilled, and also how rough.
For me, the point was some refreshment after an intense work week. In my days at the New Yorker, one of my friends who worked as a proofreader described going to the City Ballet after a hard day of catching tiny printing mistakes as a cool drink for the eyes. My work also involves close focus on details and constant decision making. I get that sort of release from ballet, and also from a close-up, live view of professional athletes. Minor league baseball by our local Bulls and Mudcats usually has this refreshing effect, too. TV sports doesn’t work the same for me.
Jocelyn was home from Colorado for a visit this week, and we all went out Thursday for some Thai food at Sawasdee. When the conversation turned to sports, I asked Jocelyn what she thought was important about big time college sports, including those at her alma mater, NC State. For her, sports and especially football were a fantastic part of the college experience. She loved tailgating, loved the drama of a come-from-behind victory. She enjoyed being part of moments when people united in support of a single cause. And for her, the Wolfpack was definitely special.
I’ve never been a deeply committed fan of a sports team, so I thought this was both sweet and interestingly strange. For me, being a part of a sports crowd involves occasional moments of transcendence, so I know generally what Jocelyn meant. But being in a crowd also usually involves stretches of wishing the people around me were better behaved. I don’t get heckling, trying to distract players, or yelling when nothing particularly exciting is happening. I always choose a team to pull for, but the choice seems basically arbitrary. It’s hard for me to believe that one team is really more virtuous than another.
So, I was excited when the Railhawks scored the first goal, glad when the goalie made a diving save, and outraged when the referee missed a flagrant foul. I was also annoyed at a young fellow who incessantly heckled the opposing coach. I was anxious when the Rowdies tied it up late in the game, and disappointed when we lost, 2-1. Then we went home, and I read for a while, and was moved by some poetry of Wallace Stevens.