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garrison games

the agony and the ecstasy of the /r/soccer headline list

Football holds a concerningly large space in my life, if anything because of how constant it is. There’s always something ongoing within the sport to tug at your attention – be it the mother of a French player flipping shit, a shock equalizer in extra time, or it somehow coming Rome. To badly quote that one ‘Mitchell and Web’ skit, football means so much as there’s “everything to play for and forever to play it in” – there’ll never be any real resolution, meaning you can tune in and out at ease. The sport is always there in some form or guise, eating away at time, boredom, and the awkwardness of small talk in the barbers. It’s hard to understate how comforting endless highlight shows can become, especially at a time where any shred of normality has been stripped from our lives. As Sam Diss put it for ‘Mundial’, there’s “no better salve for a sore head or a tired body than to sit in front of the warming glow of the 13” laptop screen and quietly watch Spurs and Chelsea scrap it out for two-and-a-bit hours including the inane chit-chat”. This calming certainty is hard to understate – you almost know what exact emotions to expect, what players will get shouted about on Twitter, what talking points you’ll pad out inane chatter with. But what happens when these expectations get shattered?

I don’t remember exactly when I was first exposed to the /r/soccer headline list, in part as you can’t really seek it out. The post has no central location or author, with random members of the subreddit reposting it under cursed stories. This list compiles weird events in the sport without context or discretion – almost overwhelming the reader through sheer absurdity. These weird headlines cover all aspects of the sport (and life in general) – be it Leroy Fer accidentally buying a horse, Wayne Hennessy being ‘desperate’ to learn about the Nazis, or Zlatan calling France a shit country. In the six years following its first appearance, the list has grown to comical lengths – you always discover something new each time you revisit it, as if the punchlines are waiting to reveal themselves. On account of this, I’ve found myself showing the list to new acquaintances as a weird quasi-icebreaker, in one case reading it out to an (admittedly quite ambivalent) ex as I sat there in a McDonald’s. This collection of dumb football stories has taken on a significant role in my life, even if I can’t work out exactly why.

Categories
garrison games

dread and fear, soundtracked by uptempo ads for gambling websites

Now that I’m free from exams a scarily high percentage of my time has been spent trying and failing to explain the constant spectacles created by football. Something I’ve always found surreal about the sport is how isolated those around me are from it – events that I view as seismic and definitive barely cross their radar, melting my brain in the process. These aborted attempts to explain my passion usually end up following the same few patterns – excerpts from the /r/Soccer headline list, that one Erling Haaland interview that sounds like anxiety-ridden third years flirting for the first time, and cliché walls of text based on the comfort of endless highlight shows. On some level it feels as if my obsession is based more around the humans behind the sport rather than the endless games they play – there’s something endlessly fascinating about the stories and cursed facts surrounding each fixture, even if I’ve retold them all countless times.

It could be argued that my excitement for Euro 2020 was fuelled more by this urge for spectacle than an appreciation of Kylian Mbappé. The actual football within this competition isn’t usually of the highest standard, with Portugal winning the tournament in 2016 after finishing third in their group and only winning one game within ninety minutes of play. This mixed quality creates the perfect conditions for shitehousery – with a team coached by a part-time dentist managing to knock out the Brits, Gareth Bale pretty much carrying his country, and random drunk Irish supporters fixing cars for the boys in green. The Euros are arguably so fascinating specifically because of how varied results end up being, pretty much anything can happen as long as it doesn’t make sense on paper. I guess the last five years have been spent just waiting for a return to these oddly consuming spectacles, a return to having new stories to tell. The tournament’s definitely delivered in this regard, just not in a positive way.