I’m having an affair. I realise that this may be a brave thing to admit in such a public space but I feel it is time people knew.
Despite having a deep romance that has endured well over twenty years, my head has been turned. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that round balls no longer make me scream, so please don’t hate me, but I am having an affair with American Football. I know there have been others in the past and thank you for being so understanding about Cricket; it’s a summer thing and you know that I always come back to you when August comes around! I still love you and I won’t start calling you soccer or refer to the Premier League as the BPL, but I have been experiencing something new and I am not sure things can get back to how they were.
How did this happen? I hear you cry! Well, it started on 2nd May 2016 when Eden Hazard equalised for Chelsea against Spurs. I think most of you know what the upshot was but it is with great delight that I remind those that don’t, Hazard’s goal confirmed that Leicester City, for the first time in their history, were champions of England! Oh man, I remember it vividly. After the game with tears welling in my eyes I turned to my wife and said “This shouldn’t happen to us.” It did happen though. Sure, I have experienced some amazing moments following Leicester: Claridge’s Shinner against Palace, Heskey’s Equaliser against Boro, Elliots Double against Tranmere to name but three but this was different. All the other achievements were within the realm of possibility. We could win the playoff final against Palace, we could win the League cup in 1997 and 2000 but win the Premier league? No, that would be stretching the limits of even the wildest imagination, wouldn’t it?
So, the city was in a nonstop party for what felt like weeks as everyone celebrated the biggest underdog story in sporting history. However, after Andrea Bocelli had sung the final note and the confetti had been swept up, I was left with an awful question lingering in my thoughts: could it ever be as good as this again? It was a magical, once in a lifetime thing whose moment had come and passed. Even if we managed to do it again it wouldn’t be the same as the allure of the elusive is lost when it becomes obtainable. I just put it down to post-party hangover and threw myself into my usual summer tryst with Cricket and when the season started, return to being in love with football and as excited as usual, or so I thought.
The new season started with a glamour trip to newly promoted Hull but instead of feeling the excitement and anticipation of kicking off the season as champions I felt pretty indifferent. Admittedly I may have felt differently if the curtain raiser was against Man Utd or one of the other big clubs but I don’t think so, as the feelings of indifference were rooted with some depth. So it continued, I went through the motions of watching, cheering, booing and swearing more out of habit than anything else. I would meet with friends and family have the usual footy chat sans the emotion until one day quite unexpectedly, my brother asked me if I watched any of the NFL as the season had not long started and he had been in to it for a long time. I replied in the negative but my interest was piqued by the possibility of getting my loins stirred up once again!
So I asked him about teams and what he likes about it and I thought OK let’s give this a go, you never know until you try it! So first thing was to pick a team, not an easy decision as you don’t want to commit to a team only to later regret it. A team is for life and that is that. I had to pick a team that I would be able to make a connection with and inspiration came from an unlikely source; a discussion about what is the greatest hip hop album of all time? For me Straight Outta Compton is a contender as I love NWA and at that point it hit me, the team I have to follow is the Oakland Raiders!
NWA’s association with the Raiders (known as the Los Angeles Raiders at the time) was well known as they would often be seen wearing Raiders apparel and I knew Ice Cube was a mad Raider fan! (Incidentally so is MC Hammer) So I joined up with the Raider Nation and the more I learnt about them the more I loved. For example former Coach and Owner Al Davis was the first owner to hire an African American Head Coach and female Chief Executive. This sort of Ceiling busting was something I could get on board with! What also helped stoke the fires were the fact that they were a team on the way up that managed to make it to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years! There was drama as our star quarterback broke his leg in the penultimate game of the season ending our hopes of a Superbowl run. I was hooked and found myself looking forward to Sunday nights more than 3:00pm Saturday.
Please don’t get me wrong I will continue to love football and it will always be an important part of my life and at the heart of the city I love. It’s just that I am not in love with football anymore. The truth is as September came around this year I was far more excited about the start of the NFL Season than I was the start of BPL (damn it, failed!).
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Written by Andy Kapadia