GAFFERSo. Villa at home against Newcastle. Hopefully it won’t look like this. (C’mon, ref, he was never offside on that last goal!) I won’t be watching live, alas: at kickoff, instead of shouting at the TV with everyone else in the Globe Pub, I’ll be standing on the touchline of a really crap field on Chicago’s lakefront, urging my younger son’s AYSO team on to victory. I’ve tried to get the kids to call me “gaffer” but they’re not having it.

Anyway, if this were a proper soccer blog, this would be the time for me to do a game preview, to analyze possible starting lineups, to make my case as to why Lambert should start Kozak and Helenius in place of Benteke and Gabby, meanwhile changing the formation to a 2-2-2-2-2. Not that I’m saying those things, but there’s a blogger for every opinion, isn’t there?

“Fan” can mean many things, from “I bought a team shirt” to “I spend more hours playing fantasy football than I do playing with my kids.” But it’s interesting to me that a fan can win his place in the hierarchy not by talent but by sheer investment of time. Also that lack of team knowledge can emasculate anyone. No matter how successful you are in life—you may live in a mansion, be married to a part-time model, and be a doting father to four beautiful, brainy children—but even the Most Interesting Man in the World can be bested by a pasty-faced geek with a Rain Man–like grasp of statistics.

In a way, that’s kind of nice, isn’t it? Fans can be rewarded for effort and not native talent, whereas the players we cheer for must have lots of the latter.

Anyway, no matter how much we think we understand soccer, there’s always someone who knows a little bit more. Someone who understands the rules of the transfer market and remembers which player has which performance clause in his contract; someone who follows the reserve team and knows which player is likely to be called up to the first team; someone who plays fantasy soccer (and football, and baseball, too). Someone who will offer opinions like, “It’s not the manager who’s important, it’s the director of football.” Someone my friend Frank would call a “knowledgeist.” (I hope I spelled that right.)

For real fans, what happens on the field is only half the game. The real fun is in predicting outcomes and second-guessing results.

I remember when I was learning about baseball, and I thought I was doing all right. I knew the rules ( including a lot of the unwritten ones), I knew the roster, and I knew a lot about how the other teams around the league were doing. Then I talked to lifelong, third-generation baseball fans and learned how little I knew. For real fans, what happens on the field is only half the game. The real fun is in predicting outcomes and second-guessing results.

Those are the kinds of fans who can write a match preview that offers genuine insight into the game we’re going to watch tomorrow. (Don’t give me updates; I’ll be hiding from the score and hurrying home to watch it an hour late.) I am not that person. But, if you’ve read even one post on this blog, you know that already.

So let’s hear it for the average fans, the fans who stand in the superfans’ shadows. I suspect there are many of us who do not have the season schedule memorized; who may briefly fail to recall the name of that player we just bought from some team or another; whose game-day predictions fail to take into account the last five head-to-head matchups and stats such as possession, passes completed, and “successful dribbles.”

For some fans, it’s victory enough to master their new DVRs to make sure the game will be recorded and waiting for them when they return from coaching their son’s AYSO team.

And, tomorrow, I am that fan.

(Oh, wait, I should make a prediction, right? Feeling emboldened by my off-the-cuff but entirely correct guess earlier this season that Manchester City would trounce Newcastle 4-0, I hereby predict that the final scoreline will be Aston Villa 2, Newcastle United 1.)

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