The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people—not only the grief and ecstasy of the greatest poets, but also the huge unhappiness of the average soul…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”—Thomas Wolfe, “God’s Lonely Man”
It’s Sunday morning and I should be in bed. Instead, I’m standing by myself outside Fado, an Irish pub in Center City, Philadelphia. It’s 8AM, and the sun has yet to put his hat on. I’m here to watch Everton play Wigan in the English Premier League (EPL), a match-up that, to many, is as salivating as sticking your tongue in a vat of dry ice.
To me, it’s my weekend. I even put it on my to-do list, underneath laundry and above groceries—all activities, coincidentally, I perform alone. Most of my football-viewing season has been spent solitarily in a Robinson Crusoe-like vacuum of existential loneliness. I’m Thoreau and Fado is the woods I retreat to. I’m a bleary eyed Buddhist monk, but instead of isolating myself in search of spiritual meaning, I seek guidance through Guinness while searching for the perfect nutmeg. I’m not complaining; in England I’d be lucky to see five live Everton games all season. But in America, thanks to Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) and Setanta, I am able to watch the beautiful game at the ugliest of hours, in the loneliest of situations.
If I was a fan of the big four—Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal—loneliness wouldn’t be an issue because, as they say, misery loves company. As it is, I’ve watched many a game alone or, even worse, lost in a crowd of opposition supporters. What’s noticeable though is that the pubs, packed to the gills with gregarious fans throughout last year’s World Cup, are eerily quiet. Sure it’s often 7AM when I arrive, wet and wind-strewn, hung over or hell-bent on a breakfast of booze, but in a country where people often start tailgating at the same early hour, I have only a bartender to talk to.
I’m sure the time difference doesn’t help, but this past season I saw 29 of 38 Everton EPL games, most of them played before 10AM. I watched alone for the most part, but also with my girlfriend (once), a visiting brother (once), and, not to sound too Hunter S. Thompson, with my attorneys (immigration and divorce) on several occasions. Being a fan of English football in a country where it’s still viewed as quaint, or merely “that game David Beckham plays”, can be frustrating, but the fact that I can watch virtually every game, even if it’s alone, more than makes up for it. What follows is a select rundown of my viewing habits from this past season:
Everton 2 Watford 1
Saturday August 19th, 10AM (US time)
Highlights viewed on YouTube
Opening day is a fun blind date you know won’t work out. The pub is packed with people still giddy from the football funfest that was the World Cup. Several friends and friends of friends stop by. It’s a party and I’m the gatecrasher, as neither FSC nor Setanta are showing the Everton game. I show up in my replica shirt anyway, and the looks I get from the Liverpool fans in attendance are as dubious as the penalty that secures Everton’s victory.
Blackburn 1 Everton 1
Wednesday, August 23rd, 3PM
Watched minute-by-minute updates online
Psychologist Clark Moustakas once stated: “Loneliness is not merely a normal part of human life, it is essential for human growth and authentic existence. By truly experiencing loneliness, the individual affirms his being and authenticity.” This is all well and good if you’re a foraging Thoreau, but maybe not so apt for someone sitting in an office cubicle, continually clicking his refresh button for minute-by-minute match updates on Everton’s website.
Tottenham 0 Everton 2
Saturday August 26th, 10AM
Watched live at Fado
The third time, they say, is a charm. For me, this proves to be prophetic as I finally get to see a live Everton game. And (would you believe it?) the pub is packed. Unfortunately they’re here to see either Celtic or Manchester United (who are playing at the same time), meaning I’m relegated to a room I never knew existed. In pub speak it would be called a nook, but it’s no bigger than a cranny. I watch alone as cheers emanate from the other games, trickling through at a decibel just above torture. My girlfriend arrives midway through the second half, only to look at me as you would a child that just sat in a puddle of water—sympathetically stifling her laughter.
Everton 3 Liverpool 0
Saturday September 9th, 10AM
Watched live at Fado
Loneliness is not the same as being alone and, although I only watch one game in isolation all season (see above), I view many in the company of strangers that leave me wishing I were alone. Standing beside two increasingly agitated Scottish Liverpool fans isn’t the best way to watch Everton’s greatest Merseyside triumph in years. They grunt and guffaw until their faces match the red shirts they wear, aiming their ire at myself, the only blue in the bar. By the time Everton scores a third goal I intentionally swap my Pavlovian demeanor for a steely poker face, internalizing my joy until I am, as Billy Idol would say, dancing with myself.
Everton 2 Wigan 2
Saturday September 16th, 10AM
Watched live at Fado
“I’m so lonesome, I could cry,” intoned Hank Williams on his 1949 hit of the same name. And although I am alone, my tears aren’t tied to the self-imposed solitary confinement, but because Everton throw away a lead, twice, in a good performance but a bad result.
Middlesborough 2 Everton 1
Saturday October 14th
Like Guy Pierce’s character in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, I have no memory of this match ever taking place and have yet to find a tattoo reminding me of my whereabouts.
Everton 2 Sheffield United 0
Saturday October 21th, 10AM
Watched live at the Dark Horse
Some people argue that you’re never truly alone as long as you have God in your heart. For a minute I thought I’d found my spiritual home within the wooden interior of British pub The Dark Horse as, upon arrival, the place is awash with blue shirts. Unfortunately, they’re all Chelsea fans here to watch their team play Portsmouth at the other end of the bar, while I sit alone in front of the biggest screen you’ve ever seen. There is a satisfying extra-sensory overload to having two games going on at once at opposite sides of the bar; I glance around at every Chelsea cheer or Portsmouth push. Yet, when I jump off my chair as a penalty is awarded to Everton, resulting in a Sheffield United sending off, no one looks my way. Which begs the age-old philosophical question: if an Everton fan cheers in a bar, and no one cares, does he make a sound?
Fulham 1 Everton 0
Saturday November 4th
Missed due to circumstances beyond my control
Loneliness cannot hold a candle to outright rejection. Loneliness implies that some sort of choice was made to be by one’s self; whereas rejection is something we have no control over. And there’s nothing worse than being shunned at 7:30AM on a cold November morning, which is what happens when I arrived at Fado to watch this game, only to be welcomed by a locked door and a sign stating something about cleaning issues. They probably didn’t realize I would have watched through a Clorox haze.
Everton 0 Aston Villa 1
Saturday November 11th, 10AM
Watched live at Brian’s house
Friends, to paraphrase the theme tune from the popular sitcom, will be there for you. And just as the Guinness breakfasts started taking a toll on my burgeoning belly, my American friend and fellow Everton fan, Brian, orders FSC for home consumption. Twin girls, born just before the season started, mean his viewing habits are very selective (read non-existent), prompting the purchase. The fact he has TIVO means we can now pause for toilet breaks, replay at our own discretion and, if a game is going too slow (as this one is), speed it up to a Benny Hill style pace—minus the naughty nuns of course.
Charlton 1 Everton 1
Saturday November 25th, 7:45AM
Watched live at Fado
Sometimes, you begin to wonder whether the missed sleep is worth it, whether the proclivity for football is thoroughly warranted, and whether the continued conversations about Fantasy Football are more forlorn than fun. Games like this can make or break a man. Luckily, my little brother is in town visiting, meaning the match is more a backdrop than main event. Even as a backdrop, though, it’s painfully unproductive.
Everton 2 West Ham 0
Portsmouth 2 Everton 0
Everton 2 Chelsea 3
Sunday December 3rd; Saturday December 9th; Sunday December 17th
Watched TIVO’d at Brian’s house
Everton’s downward dip in form coincides with the Philadelphia Eagles’ late season resurgence, which means that, for every December double header we endure, at least one of our football teams win.
Reading 0 Everton 2
Everton 0 Middlesborough 0
Everton 3 Newcastle 0
December 23rd, 26th, and 30th
Watched highlights on Match of the Day in England
In a Dickensian move, Sky Sports decided against airing any Everton games whilst I was home in England for Christmas, meaning that I had to get my fix from the ever-present highlight show, Match of the Day. You’d think, being in England, I’d be surrounded by my brethren but, again, I found myself alone, in front of the muted pub television, while everyone else sang along to Slade on the jukebox.
Liverpool 0 Everton 0
Saturday February 3rd, 7:45AM
Watched live at Fado
Like the Blind Melon album that sits solemnly amongst my girlfriend’s otherwise impeccable CD collection, this game is highly embarrassing. The fact that (for once) I not only have friends, but a whole gang, makes matters worse. A group of Liverpool supporters visiting from New York was in attendance for what can only be described as a “batten-down-the-hatches” Everton performance as they place every player in a defensive role. Of course, I am satisfied with the result. But it’s a little like throwing a dinner party and having it catered by the producers of Fear Factor; I was happy to see them suffer, yet still felt bad for my guests.
Sheffield United 1 Everton 1
Saturday March 3rd, 10AM
Watched live at Brian’s house
Maybe I’m just going through a Mithridates moment. The Greek king took poison every day to build up a tolerance and ultimately became immune to it, so much so that ,when he was captured mid-battle, his attempted suicide bid (by poison of course) failed due to his hardening. Now, following seven months of solid football viewing, I suddenly feel immune to the sport. It doesn’t help that this game isn’t great, or even good for that matter. Fortunately, for my own sanity, due to cup competitions and my own travels, the next game I see will come a month later. A break, they say, is as good as a change.
Everton 4 Fulham 1
Friday April 6th, 8PM
Watched TIVO’d at Brian’s
Easter in England is a four-day weekend of drinking delights and footballing follies. With two games in four days (Good Friday and Easter Monday), it rivals the Christmas period for pushing physical limits. Living in America though, Good Friday means no holiday, but work, leading us to watch this game via TIVO later in the evening. Just ten minutes into a tightly poised game, FSC mysteriously disappears to be replaced by the Animal Channel. We fast-forward until the game comes back on, and there it is, in small type on the top right hand corner of the screen—Everton is leading 3-1. Have we just missed the greatest half of Everton football all season? It transpires that Brian’s nanny changed the channel while it was taping. Luckily, the game is replayed at 8PM, which gives us enough time to eat dinner and watch the game in full, safe in the knowledge that, at some point, we would be winning 3-1.
Everton 2 Manchester United 4
Saturday April 28th, 7:45AM
Watched live at Fado
Imagine a Red Sox fan sitting amid a mass of Yankees fans and you can picture me, perched on a stool, surrounded by Manchester United supporters. I feel like a lone blue ship sailing on the Red Sea. The game itself is a Brechtian drama, featuring a deluge of goals. Everton goes 2-0 up to the sound of me cheering wildly, my roars echoing around the silent bar. Then it happens: 1,2,3,4—one after another. The United cheers get louder, mocking me, making me feel small, until Man U youngster, Christopher Eagles, scores the final goal and several fans, as if they were expecting it, burst into the Philadelphia Eagles chant: “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!!!!” Despite my distraught state of mind, it’s hard not to chuckle.
Which brings me to the conclusion that, for all the machismo camaraderie attached to sports, watching a match—no matter how large the group or how great the game—is always, in some way, an innately lonely affair. You are sucked in and suffer no fools gladly. The chattering masses make no sense when your team has possession. And when that goal goes in, it’s just you and the celebratory sensation that somehow, through your support (and your lucky jersey), you and you alone helped push that ball over the line. Sure, there are the high fives, the hugging, the rounds of beer, and the half-time chitchat that go hand in hand with large groups of likeminded fans. But, for true sport fans, no matter where you are, who you’re with, what time it is, or what game you’re watching, it’s just you and your team. As Woody Allen once said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.” Exchange “life” for “a football season” and his words would still ring true—maybe even more so.