Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From the Vaults: Euro 2008, Falling for the Russians

There's not much I can add to the technical accounts or the general mob of giddiness around the way Andrei Arshavin is playing, but I'd like to add my gasp to the chorus. It's nice to see the sportswriters besotted for a change, reminded of why they become sportswriters in the first place. Using their words. Taking a few moments to set aside their legitimate criticisms of the materialism of the game, their necessary muckracking, to pull out some dusty poetries.

Usually when R. and I watch a game at the pub in Pasadena, we have to park a couple of blocks away, and walk past the Humane Society. The collective whimper leaking out is audible. We keep talking. We walk faster. We push our hands deep into our pockets. But today when we passed by, an Asian family was leaving the building, a mom and a dad and a young boy of maybe 11 or 12, with a serious, kind face. In his hand, he held the leash of the happiest dog I've ever seen. A mutty sort of maybe-Labrador grinning from ear to mangy ear. I had what I felt was a logical reaction to this scene: I burst into tears. Even from across the street, I was overcome by the dog's relief.

Mind you, I don't mean in any way to compare Arshavin to a dog. But the feeling I experienced watching that scruff of a dog look up at his new owner did not diminish as I watched Russia play the Dutch; it grew. The Russians were light, and fleet-footed, and fearless. Of course, this is Hiddink's way, to send his team forward even if it's a suicide mission. And of course, it's Russia's way right now as well, their oil enabling Ikeas in Siberia as the rest of Europe packs up their table linens and prepares to crumble into the sea, villas first. 

But like that dog, who could hardly believe his good luck at finally getting the chance to be a real dog, to be himself- to love this little boy, and bark at the postman, and sleep the hot Pasadena afternoon away- these Russian boys with their supernaturally terrible haircuts, their pale and flushed and wiry bodies, and their insistence on dribbling like it was still in style- showed that they're at this tournament not just to convince a club to buy or sell them.

They're on that field just to play, to say fuck it and push forward down the field, instead of hugging the back line and waiting to die. To feel the weightlessness that comes from not waiting anymore, and to rush into the selves they have been preparing to be. They are becoming 
themselves on the Euro 2008 fields, because a soccer star can't be a soccer star without the world watching, just like a dog can't truly be a dog without a little boy chasing him around the yard. It's thrilling to watch.