I've worn this expression myself (if not the jacket-and-tie combination)
I’ve worn this expression myself (if not the jacket-and-tie combination)

Watching the first half of Saturday’s game against West Ham, with Villa pinned back almost from the start, with the Hammers riding a wave of momentum and Villa mired in the Slough of Despond, I started composing this blog post in my head. It was going to be a diatribe—no, not a diatribe, a lament. Or not even a lament. A postgraduate thesis on the team’s failings and my own troubled psyche, summarized by the words, “Why the fuck am I wasting my time?”

I know many supporters have felt the same way many times in recent years, and I have less right to complain than most. I haven’t wasted my money on plane tickets, train tickets, and match tickets; on pints of beer, pukka pies, and plush toys for my kids. (They’ve gotten shirts and that’s about it.) I haven’t made the trip to London to watch the team lose to the WORST TEAM IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE.

If you watch soccer for entertainment, and your
team is not entertaining, what’s the point?
To see what other sides can do against you?

But we all have our own crosses to bear. While my fall schedule this season—coaching, family obligations, and travel—has conspired to keep me out of the company of my suffering brethren at the Globe, I have watched every game, hiding from the result until I’m able to carve out the couch time necessary to suffer in real time.

And the results don’t look any better whether you watch them on Saturday afternoon or Saturday night. Last week, my 10-year-old headed for the exit in disgust 10 minutes before full time.

Yesterday against West Ham, watching a first half so devoid of spark, ideas, creativity, flair, and promise—any of the things that can make even a defeat watchable—I hit my low point. Why was I sacrificing precious moments of my existence, time that cannot be renewed and will not come again, to watch a bunch of professional players kick the ball up in the air? I fully expected us to lose, and we would have deserved to lose, justifying my bleak feelings. If you watch soccer for entertainment, and your team is not entertaining, what’s the point? To see what other sides can do against you?

Then, in the second half, Villa came to life, inasmuch as a shuffling zombie can be said to be living, and West Ham suddenly decided it would be better to retreat and start nailing planks over the windows and doors. For while, it looked like anyone’s game. Until it started looking like a nil-nil draw, which was the point at which I became convinced we would concede a goal in the dying moments.

Villa came to life, inasmuch as a shuffling
zombie can be said to be living.

But we didn’t concede, and we earned a point that, in the end, we almost deserved. Just one lousy little point, a bandage on the bleeding. (Do zombies bleed? I’d better watch my metaphors.) Still, not losing allows you to forget briefly about not winning, to fire up the Rationalization Calculator most of us use so often it might as well be an iPhone app.

  • We’ve played 10 teams so far this season: Stoke, Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Everton, QPR, Tottenham, and West Ham.
  • Of those, 7 are currently in the top half of the table (and Liverpool and Everton were, too, when we played them), and we’ve gotten results against 2 of them.
  • And, even with the loss to QPR, we got results against 2 of the remaining 3.
  • Which isn’t half bad for a team that’s only scored 5 goals.
  • In fact, with the Premier League’s worst goal-scoring record, the fact that Villa is as high as 16th place says something about our defense—we really haven’t shipped that many goals (16) compared to other teams (the league average was 14.9 before Sunday’s games).
  • Why, when Benteke returns from his self-inflicted absence, when Delph comes back from his freak shoulder injury, when Hutton and Senderos are starting again . . . with a much easier schedule starting November 29 against Burnley, the sky’s the limit!

They say it’s the hope that kills you.

Funny, I used to feel sorry for Collins that he couldn't play for Villa
Funny, I used to feel sorry for Collins that he couldn’t play for Villa

Of course, we still can’t score. If my calculations are correct, Weimann’s tally in the Tottenham loss means we have one goal in 621 minutes, just one goal in seven games.

Think about it: one goal in seven games. My Rationalization Calculator just overheated and my existential crisis just came back to engulf my in a fog of despair.

I suspect that my real problem is that I’m not spending ENOUGH time supporting the team—with other supporters. Because as I’ve written before, the team doesn’t belong to the highly paid professionals who take the field, it doesn’t belong to the managers who seem unable to inspire better performances from them, it doesn’t even belong to Randy Lerner. He’s just a caretaker. The team belongs to the fans. One fan does not a team make, and you can’t support a team all by yourself. Without the camaraderie, gallows humor, and moments of celebration (surely we remember what that feels like), watching every performance of a bad team is a strange pursuit. With no insult intended to the autistic, who have no choice about the matter, it almost feels like a form of intentional autism to focus so single-mindedly on something without any emotional connection or broader context.

With that in mind, what I need to feel better about Villa isn’t necessarily a win (but please God let them win) but some more time with the Villans.

And here the schedule screws me again. The next game, against Southampton, is on a Monday. And the game after that, against Burnley, is in the middle of the Thanksgiving break, when I’ll be out of town.

And—seriously?!—the game after that, against Palace, is on a Tuesday.

Well, here’s hoping for some games worth watching.