Friday, January 19, 2018

November 19 deja vu

“This feeling like November 19 all over again.” Like me, Andy Govia is a long-time Liverpool supporter, so that observation last week just before walking into his favourite aloo pie and saheena establishment along El Socorro Road was perfectly understandable.

You see, in the halcyon days of the mid-1980’s when Andy and I put aside our traditional school-based animosity (Fatima versus St Mary’s and all that goes with it) to collectively revel in Liverpool’s almost complete dominance of English football, all seemed well with the world. Not only were the “Reds” running rampant but the West Indies team, if anything, were even more domineering on the international cricket stage.

It made life so much more bearable for us in the second, third and fourth teams of Queen’s Park to be able to reflect almost every Saturday evening on our adopted football favourites from England’s north-west marching inexorably towards another league title or our Caribbean heroes beating up on another hapless victim.

A typical weekend afternoon of being smashed to all parts (national footballer Philbert Jones once hoisted me, into the breeze mind you, for one of the biggest sixes ever seen on the Queen’s Park Savannah) and the inevitable picong that followed back at the club could be easily deflected by going on at considerable length about the exploits of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, John Barnes and others, a tactic which easily silenced the Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur supporters.

Imagine then what the sense of anticipation would have been like just three weeks ago when Liverpool were on a run of 11 consecutive wins, stood proudly at the top of the English Premier League, and only had one really challenging game to negotiate – at home to Chelsea – before they could be crowned league champions for the first time since 1990. Yes, 24 long years of frustration were about to come to an end. Then Steven Gerrard slipped.

It will become a classic example of what obtains at the highest level of sporting competition where one mistake, one slight miscalculation, one momentary lapse in concentration can become the turning point of any duel. Of course, in a season of 38 games spread over nine months, there will be more than a few other stumbles on the journey. Liverpool’s struggles over the busy Christmas holiday period, when they started at the top but finished down in third, come immediately to mind.

And there’s a lot of sympathy for Gerrard, a tireless trier who has stayed loyal to his home club despite attractive overtures from rivals over the years. Still, it will not be surprising in the least if the hard-driving, inspirational midfielder remains haunted by the error that allowed Demba Ba to put Chelsea 1-0 up on the stroke of halftime in that pivotal duel at Anfield. The 2-0 win by Jose Mourinho’s side, and therefore Gerrard’s critical stumble, will be identified for years to come as the moment the title race turned in favour of Manchester City.

Rest assured the longer it takes Liverpool to claim that elusive title the more that moment will loom larger and larger in the eyes of fans waiting for their tabanca for a league title to be eased. And speaking of tabanca, Andy’s reference to November 19 caused me to reflect on that late afternoon in 1989 when Paul Caliguiri’s speculative effort from distance caught Michael Maurice by surprise in the Trinidad and Tobago goal. It was all the US needed to fulfil their own dreams of a place at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy at the expense of what we were convinced was our destiny of getting to football’s biggest stage for the first time ever.

But time does indeed heal almost all wounds, although I wonder if or how often Maurice, who was brilliant between the uprights in the previous game in El Salvador to earn his country an invaluable point, replays that decisive moment at an overcrowded Hasely Crawford Stadium (it was known at the time as simply the National Stadium) in his mind. Thankfully, the apathy and indifference that define the quintessential Trini suggest that the former goalkeeper would not have had to endure the ridicule and hostility suffered by others.

One of the best-known examples of such merciless treatment involves the American baseball player Bill Buckner, whose error at first base in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series allowed the New York Nets to defeat the Boston Red Sox in extra innings. The shell-shocked Red Sox, who had been waiting since 1918 for another World Series title, were then beaten again in the decisive Game Seven.

Bucker was never allowed to forget that error to the extent that in 2003, 13 years after his playing career ended and having become increasingly weary of the occasional sniping comments, he packed up his family and moved out of Boston to the comparative wilderness of Boise, Idaho.

As sports fans, we often forget that we’re dealing with fellow mortals, as super-human as we would like to think they are. Mistakes happen all the time. It’s just that when it occurs at a critical moment, with a title or a World Cup finals spot on the line, everything is magnified more than a hundred-fold.

It’s all about putting things in perspective and learning to cope with perceived adversity, I suppose. What clearly doesn’t hurt either is access to decent aloo pie with proper chutney, although it’s unlikely Bill Bucker will be so fortunate in Boise.