When Mrs. Mac was transferred to London in 2000 a new chapter in sports fanaticism began for me. It was difficult to be an American sports fan in London. Baseball and the NFL are simply ignored. I had nobody with whom to discuss the World Series and the Super Bowl.
In October, 2000, another American expatriate invited us to a soccer match at Highbury, in North London. We watched Arsenal v. Manchester City and my entire opinion of soccer was changed. I was hooked, I was a fan.
I had notions of fans stabbing their neighbors in the stands, of missiles being launched at the opponents, and police rounding-up hooligans. None of this transpired, of course.
Watching the amazing play of Patrick Vieira, Ashley Cole, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Che Grimandi, Sylvain Wiltord, and Thierry Henry helped me understand why it is called the beautiful game. Final score was Arsenal 5 - 0 Man City. The play, however, wasn't as close as the score makes it sound. Arsenal whipped their Eastlands opponents, and I was now a supporter of the Arsenal Gunners, I was now a "gooner"!
I began to read about my new team in the press and watch their matches on television. I discussed the game at the office and with anyone who was patient enough to entertain the ignorance of a new American footy fanatic.
I learned about the different leagues and how teams are promoted and relegated, which is the most fascinating thing in organized sports. Get this:
A team is in a league. In England there are basically four leagues: Premier League, First Division, Second Division, and Third Division. Then there is the Conference, which is the lowest division.
There are currently twenty teams in the Premier League, and 24 in each of the lower divisions. At the end of this season the bottom three Premiership teams will be relegated to the First Division, where television revenue is much lower, and three First Division teams will be promoted. Similarly, the bottom three teams in the First Division will be relegated to the Second Division while three Second Division teams are promoted, and so on. I don't know if teams move from the Conference to the Third Division in the same manner.
Also, the top teams in the Premier League are invited to play in the European Champions League and UEFA Cup. These competitions bring big money to the team. BIG MONEY!
So, this promotion/relegation paradigm adds an amazing dynamic. Not only could your team be out of the running for the domestic championship and European invitations, you could actually be relegated to a lower division (and there is little more humbling AND humiliating than that).
While following Arsenal, their star goalkeeper returned from injury. David Seaman was getting a bit long in the tooth, and his nagging injuries were now real injuries; but, he was a superb keeper, a star of the England national team, and an all-around good guy. When I attended the match against Man City, he was out nursing a shoulder injury (again); but he came back.
Seaman was a joy to watch in goal. He is an amazing athlete who smiles a lot and seems to be sincerely enjoying his job. I became a big fan and supporter of the old man.
When Mrs. Mac and I returned to the United States, I became a season ticket holder for the MLS MetroStars and learned which pubs showed matches from England, and I cheered for Arsenal and Seaman at every opportunity.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 2002-2003 Seaman learned he would not be the starting keeper for Arsenal in 2003-2004 and he decided to look elsewhere for employment. Coincidentally (for my story only), he signed with Manchester City, who are now back in the Premier League.
The television camera loves Seaman, and he is becoming a bit of a telly star in England. He is captain on They Think It's All Over, a televised sports quiz show.
He's a top bloke!
This past Tuesday evening, David Seaman retired from professional football. His shoulder just won't cooperate. He is rumored to have said: "The mind still wants to play, but the flesh will not do it."
He will be replaced by David James, who also replaced him as keeper for the England team. I quite like James, who is currently wasting away in the First Division with West Ham who were relegated last year. And City needs an attractive player like James, because they are one ugly lot!
It is the first passing of an era for me as a footy fanatic. It's a little sad, because I will not see him on gameshows and talkshows and judging talent contests and posing with topless girls and being declared 'the greatest keeper in this history of the modern English game' or some such silliness. It is unlikely that I will ever see his image on the television again.
Good luck, David Seaman!
Some related Links:
Here is an article about Seaman's retirement.
An article about David James.
ESPN/Soccernet David Seaman Page
Manchester City Football Club
Arsenal Football Club
They Think It's All Over