15 December 2007

Luck And The Absence Thereof: When Saturday Comes

I know that many of you, especially those of the American persuasion, are not too interested in my occasional posts about English football, so I'll try and limit the football content to general principles.

But as you may know, Saturday is the day when most English football matches are played. When I lived in London, there was little question of where I would be most Saturday afternoons: either at Craven Cottage, where I had a season ticket, or in some benighted corner of the country, be it Grimsby, Birmingham, Manchester or West Ham, enjoying and/or suffering the triumphs and travails of Fulham Football Club (est. 1879). Saturdays when the team were playing away and I couldn't or wouldn't get there, I'd usually be perched by the radio or computer monitoring the results and how they would affect our position in the league.

My first step in preparing to leave England was to give up my season ticket at the end of 2005-06. It was a wrenching decision because it was excellent seat near center pitch, and I knew that even if I moved back to England one day, it would be years, if ever, before I ever scored such a great seat again. The decision to give up my Notting Hill apartment was even more fraught, for much the same reasons, but because giving up my season ticket came first, it felt even more dramatic and final.

Since moving to the USA I've spent a good deal of time and money trying to keep up with the fortunes (more misfortunes, of late) of my favorite club, mostly involving subscriptions to any cable or broadband service that promises to show Premiership games. It's still not as much as I spent while in England, especially considering the price of train fares to away games, but it's not insubstantial.

All of which appears to be in vain, however. Fulham are having the worst season since I've been a supporter, and at the rate they're going, will have vanished from American TV by next season because they'll no longer be in the Premiership. I realized today it's been over a year now since the last game I attended: a memorable 2-1 victory - our first in 40 years - over the mighty Arsenal.

Maybe I should have given up on supporting Fulham then, gone out on a high note. But no, love of one's football team is as irrational and unshakable as the feelings people develop for the patently unsuitable girlfriend or boyfriend whose glaring faults everyone else can see but to which we remain blithely oblivious.

Anyway, the main theme of Fulham's inexorable descent toward the bottom of the league this season has been their ability to constantly conjure new and unanticipated ways to lose in the closing minutes, even in games which they had mostly dominated. Today it was giving up a penalty in the final 30 seconds of stoppage time, but by this point, the details hardly even matter. The way Fulham's luck has been going, the entire Newcastle team could have been flat on their backs and the wind would have picked up a dead ball off the surface and deposited it behind our goalkeeper.

But is it luck? They say that lucky teams (or people) make their own luck, and I tend to subscribe to this. Sure, there will always be the occasional time when a simple twist of fate undoes all your most valiant efforts, but when that sort of thing happens on a regular, even constant basis, I think that rather than railing at your rotten luck, it's more productive to take a good, hard look at yourself.

I know there was a time in my life when I was firmly enrolled in the "If it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all" school of thought. I think I got that from my Dad, who from my earliest childhood, seldom passed up an opportunity to explain how the government, the corporations, the capitalists, the rich people, and the general stupidity and cupidity of the human race were to blame for our not being able to afford a new car or a trip to Disneyland.

It was only in the last couple years before he died, when he was increasingly suffering from senile dementia, that he casually admitted how his own lack of motivation might also have had something to do with it. For instance, one of his most constant refrains the whole time I was growing up was about how the Great Depression and the War had robbed him of his chance to go to college and get a better job.

Then one day, in one of the last coherent conversations I was able to have with him, it suddenly occurred to me that World War II veterans had been entitled to a free college education under the GI Bill. "Why didn't you take advantage of that, Dad?" I asked, and he, with uncharacteristic candor, answered, "Ah, I didn't feel like it."

I later confirmed this with his brother-in-law, who'd been through the same war and depression yet still managed to acquire a master's degree and a couple successful careers. "Yeah, your dad was a great guy. Just not too motivated."

And I've come to believe that about 90% or more of "bad luck" can be summed up that way: a lack of motivation to do what is necessary to change it. On the football pitch, it can be as simple as making that extra effort to always be on the ball or anticipate where the ball is going next, and never to let one's concentration lapse, even for a second. In the larger game of life, the principles are not that different, which is why when things don't go my way, I no longer waste time or energy searching for someone or something to blame.

In fact, even the most cursory self-examination usually reveals, and quickly, too, the real culprit to be myself. I'm not saying I always deserve to miss out on the opportunity I was seeking or the person I was sure should fall in love with me or even just writing the perfect blog post instead of a so-so one. But at the same time, there's scarcely a time when, in any field of endeavor, when I can't say, "I could have done better." And similarly, scarcely a time when the reason can't be perfectly summed up by my dad's immortal words (immortal in the sense that they now seem to have become my words as well): "Ah, I didn't feel like it."

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