BY KAREN HART
It’s taken 40 years, but I’ve finally found my team. Growing up, I watched sports, participated in sports, but never really cared for any specific team or about any specific game of play. When necessary, I would cheer for my hometown Southern California teams with no love or excitement.
But all that changed when Premier League soccer kicked off its 2018-2019 season and I found myself watching Tottenham Hotspur play against Manchester United in late August. At the time, I didn’t know Harry Kane and Lucas Moura were responsible for what my beloved Men In Blazers refer to as squeaky bum time goals or that Toby Alderweireld and Christen Eriksen were the perfect lockdown defender and midfielder. I didn’t know Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Dele or Vertonghen were on the field. Honestly, I don’t think I could have pronounced Vertonghen’s name.
Fast forward to this week and Tottenham’s match-up against Liverpool with a Champions League title cup on the line. This is my team. I believe in them. And this is not only my team, but I finally understand all the weird traditions, passionate fans, and the alien-like feelings of triumph or devastation that come from witnessing a win or loss.
Game Day Talisman
Not shaving or washing a game day shirt while a team is on a winning streak; growing a beard; offering up special drinks and foods to the sports gods, I get it.
To my husband and all those I’ve mocked over the years, I apologize. I finally understand those seemingly stupid game day rituals you go through when your teams are playing. They are not irrational or without consequence. When I wear my lucky Spurs underwear, we win. When I don’t, we don’t. The science is there.
Yelling at the television
According to a 2017 online poll, 35% of those who responded acknowledged they yell at their favorite team when they are watching them play. Thirty-five percenters, we are sympatico. And I now know why the men in my house yell at the television during their Texas football games, because seconds after I let loose the WTF, I see Hugo Lloris or Harry Kane mouth the exact same words. My team hears me.
The Emotional Connection
Emotional connection really is a “must have” in any relationship. During a game last November, when Son Heung-Min dribbled the ball past Chelsea’s Jorginho and cut inside and around David Luiz with such speed, sending the ball to the back of the net, the beautiful game took on new meaning for me. And when Llorente scored his hip goal against the favored Manchester City, I shed a tear of joy. I never even did that at the birth of any of my children, and I have six of them. But for your brilliance, Llorente, I felt it. You wanted to contribute to our win, and you did.
Everyone’s a Critic When You Aren’t Winning
With the exception of Rebecca Lowe — who can say no wrong — I laugh every time the NBC Match Day hosts open their mouths. When my Spurs win, we are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but when we lose, you, along with many other sports reporters, take us out of contention for any title, and start clucking and questioning if the team can win without injured superstar Harry Kane, or even worse, if we are better off without him.
Thank goodness Mauricio Pochettino has drowned out all the naysayers. He doesn’t make excuses, but he also takes opportunities to praise his team and create a family-like environment that makes the players feel responsible and accountable to one another. I can almost hear Pochettino telling his team to give all to the game and to the team because to quote St. Francis of Assisi, “It is in giving that we receive.”
And speaking of which, if my team is going to win the Champions League on Saturday, they are going to have to give everything.They have to play the way they’ve played without Harry Kane, but with Harry Kane. No letting up, no giving up, no complacency. Fight from the first minute to however many minutes over the 90-minute marker you have to.
Don’t hang back, Lucas Moura. You are a beast of a striker. Be a striker! Son, dazzle with your foot skills and speed. Christensen, you are just amazing; carry on. Alderweireld, even though I still mispronounce your name, we are so lucky to have you. Lloris, ESPN will be writing epic prose and poetry about you after this game. And please know, I will do my part. I will wear my lucky underwear. I won’t refill popcorn bowls until halftime, I will be there yelling at you through the tv and cheering you on from afar, so COME ON YOU SPURS! Dare to do. You’ve got this.
Karen Hart is a communications consultant who works with athletes, collegiate athletic conferences, coaches, nonprofits, and U.S. Presidents. When she isn’t cheering on her team, she is driving her soccer star to soccer practice. On Saturday, she will be rooting for the Spurs.