Friday, February 13, 2009
The black and white was taken the night of June 17th. Its actually probably the morning of June 18th at this point. The Oilers have just beaten the Hurricanes soundly to force a seventh game. We had watched the game at Paupers surrounded by Oilers' fans. From there we headed into the night, myself and one of my best friends, four Irishmen and assorted others, meandering through the warm streets to the Cloak and Dagger for pints and then on to Parkdale, ending our night at Ted's Wrecking Yard. I think. I was so so drunk.
That was probably my best night as an Oilers' fan. The worst one followed two nights later, although actually for me the first game of the final is probably the lowest point of all if I really think about it.
I just presume that anyone who comes here is also a regular visitor to James Mirtle and Tom Benjamin. If you are not then you should get yourself over to both. Terrific stuff. Last week Benjamin, a Canucks' fan, wrote this in response to a post Mirtle did on the Canucks and their sorry history. Its an interesting read and its pertinent for Oiler fans who are disappointed in their club again this season.
I've beaten this drum many times but Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby is one of my favourite books. I think it stands on its own as entertainment but it also is very interesting to read Hornby's take on being a fan and a lot of what Tom wrote last week is echoed in this book.
Hornby is a fan of Arsenal. There is a fellow named Darren who is a regular visitor here, I guess; at least he certainly comments whenever the subject turns to soccer, which is every few weeks or so. Darren is an Arsenal fan while I am a Spurs fan. Arsenal is one of the big four in English soccer, or football if you prefer, along with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, a recent arrival to the club due to their billionaire Russian owner. These four clubs are the ones who compete every year for the titles that are available - the League Championship, the FA Cup, the League Cup (also known as Carling Cup) and the European Champions' League. All have had success of some sort over the last number of years. The odd year another team will sneak into the top four and get a Champions' League spot (Everton did a few years back, Spurs came within a whisker just recently as well) and these big clubs' concentration on Europe and the Premier League title has meant that they have been a little less diligent in the English tournaments. Last year Portsmouth won the FA Cup and Spurs the lesser Carling Cup.
The point of this ramble is that if you are a fan of any of the big four clubs you have tasted success and quite a bit of it over the last while. If you are a fan of any of the other English clubs then success is usually something that is part of your past.
But you still remain a fan of the club.
The reason I bring up Darren and Arsenal is that for nearly Hornby's entire time as a fan covered in the book (he became a fan around 1967 or so and published Fever Pitch in 1992) the Gunners were losers and losers of the worst sort. They played dull plodding soccer and their results were nearly always mediocre. No titles of any sort. Not so bad that they were relegated or close to being relegated. Just season after season of boring thuggish football played in front of disgruntled, angry fans while other teams, notably their arch rival Spurs, won title after title whilst playing a creative and exciting brand of the game.
So most of Hornby's work is dedicated to years of following a bad team playing bad football. The team rarely played a game that meant anything at all and had a long laundry list of failed players and disastrous results in big games. Hornby and his fellow fans had an expectation of disaster and mediocrity and sometimes I wonder what his take would be now, after years of success for Arsenal while former giants Tottenham are the ones who have fallen into middle of the table mediocrity.
It is in the late eighties I believe that Arsenal win their first big title in Hornby's fan lifetime and his description of it is wonderful. He describes it as a feeling like no other and of course he is right. There is nothing comparable and here I am really trying to describe what he said from my memory so bear with me. Of course you have your big lifetime moments - your wedding and the birth of your children - but having gone through these the reality is you don't have the tension, the buildup to each, right? When we married it was a terrific day and a terrific party but there wasn't the feeling of release that you get when your team wins. Now when your child is born and all turns out well there is that feeling but it is more one of relief. When my third child was born I burst into tears but it was out of thanks that she and my wife were fine more then anything. In terms of great moments in my life an Oilers' Cup win would rank behind the birth of my kids and getting married, of course, but the feeling from such a win would probably be overwhelming in terms of actually intensity at that moment.
Hornby describes the feeling as close to orgasmic and of course he is right - I remember Hemsky's goal to beat Detroit and Pisani's shortie in the fifth game of the final and game six of the final and the euphoria following each. For that matter the games against San Jose and Anaheim and all of that. Just the excitement, my heart racing, on the edge for two months.
The thing with an orgasm though is that you can have another shortly after. (Or maybe not. If so then see your doctor or look into finding someone who has read this.) And you might not have a ten year or twenty year or lifetime buildup towards it. Its like The Forty Year Old Virgin. Steve Carell gets right back in the saddle after his first go and the other thing is he hasn't been chasing Catherine Keener for all of those years either on top of that.
Think about how we Oiler fans will feel when the Oilers break a drought that is too long now but only eighteen (soon to be nineteen) years. How would Tom Benjamin react to a Canucks' victory? How about a Leafs' fan react to a Cup? A Hawks' fan? How about the Cubs winning the Series?
Unless you are a Manchester United fan there aren't many guarantees in professional sports and they (and Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea) are helped by the fact that there are four honours to win in every season. In North American sports there is only one that really counts in each major sport and even the most successful teams can go years without winning. Last year's Stanley Cup was Detroit's first in six years. The New York Yankees have not won a World Series in eight years.
I think this is also one of the reasons that the Olympics are so popular. We knew Katrina Lemay Doan and Simon Whitfield (at least this time around) and Clara Hughes and Pierre Leuders and the hockey teams in 2002 but for the most part we don't know these athletes. I had an inkling of who Jennifer Heil was in 2006 but I had never watched ski Mongols and I had never seen skeleton until I watched the fireman win in Italy. It didn't matter though - when they were competing I was going completely mental.
The tension of the competition, the anticipation, the agonizing and finally the thrill when Beckie Scott or Chandra Crawford or Ryan Cochrane or Carol Huynh win a medal is a rush that cannot be matched and of course with the Olympics while it may represent for the athlete the culmination of years of work, for the fan, for the Canadian watching the event, it is something ongoing, every two years Canadian athletes will compete and we will cheer for them and we will feel the rush when they reach the podium. I think that has something to do with the popularity of the Olympics, I really do. If you're a fan of the St. Louis Blues you don't have a lot going for you. If you're Canadian you can watch Simon Whitfield toss his cap aside and make a break for it and the excitement leaves you exhausted and sweaty and feeling like you need a cigarette for some odd reason. That or a cold shower.
The truth is there is no rhyme or reason to being a fan of a particular club. I was a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks all of my life and it wasn't the losing that made me cut the cord, it was the disconnect between the owner and the fans. Oiler fans reacted with anger and bitterness to the Ryan Smyth move and a lot of folks walked away that day, some temporarily, some for good, but imagine a team with all kinds of money cutting loose every star player when it came time to pay them, gutting the scouting staff, failing to televise local games, rejecting their greatest stars from the past, disposing of every manager or coach who brought any kind of success because of jealousy and politics. That was the Chicago Blackhawks. The losing was bad. The contempt the club had was the killer though.
It can always get worse is what I am trying to say and the Edmonton Oilers are about to test our patience as fans as they embark on a four game stretch that could make or break their season. L.A., Phoenix, San Jose, Dallas, all on the road, without Lubo, gone for the season, without Grebeshkov, and suddenly the strength of this club, the blueline, has been eroded so that Smid and Staios, who struggled as the third pair, are now in the top four and it will be Strudwick and Peckham out there on the blue.
This could be it and its a test of our faith. If Lowe had done a better job I think they'd be able to survive an o-fer on this trip and that doesn't even begin to take into account MacTavish's failings. In any case this could be the season right here.
And if you really want to start worrying take a look at this. Try and make it work. Use the new math or the regular old math. Then hope and pray that Shoalts is wrong. If he is not then this club is in serious trouble or Daryl Katz is going to have to eat a lot of contracts.
As for me I'll just keep on carrying on as a fan. Three years is an awfully short time in the grand scheme of things. Just ask a Leafs' fan.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:00 PM