It’s that time of year when I can escape this no longer.
The college football season is long past—even Spring Game can’t make that not true—and the end of the Madness was sealed two weeks back. With American pro sports failing to really capture this fan’s hopes and dreams, and—in spite of a half-hearted attempt to pretend otherwise—my empty, loveless relationship with baseball, I can’t keep deceiving myself.
This year, the feeling’s worse too. As the clock begins to run out on my time as a PhD student, the realities of my situation are becoming harshly clear. Once I get that diploma in my hands, this home won’t be home anymore. I might appear to fit in out here—at least until my accent gives it all away—but my visa says otherwise. Given the choice, I’m not sure whether I would stay in the US, but I’m not given that choice.
Pretty soon I’ll likely be on a plane back to England. Back to the rain, the cold, the infamous food. And back to the soccer.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love soccer. It is the greatest sport on the face of the Earth, no question. But it is also the one sport that can rip my heart to shreds. Something it does on a far too regular basis.
Here I’ve been able to escape for a little while the torture of all this. When things go well the homesickness kicks in and I spend many an hour trawling the web for news and commenting on Reading FC’s latest successes. But when things go badly I can hide. I can’t distract myself with football or basketball, or even my PhD. I can’t go outside, too, without the fear of meeting someone who might remind me of the pain, or, worse, catching a glimpse of the latest failure on a TV or in a newspaper.
And, in case you hadn’t quite realized, things aren’t going well.
Just a year ago Reading surged up from near the bottom of the Championship table to win the division and earn promotion to the Premier League. We had also been acquired by a consortium that included a Russian billionaire, offering the chance of serious investment in the club for the first time in many years. And the new owners had thrown their support behind the coach, hinting at the sort of stability that is essential for any club to succeed long term.
Now, all that optimism has been crushed into the dirt. Reading are now dead last at the foot of the table, 10 points from safety, with a goal difference of -28 and just four games remaining. However much I might want to believe, there is no way we can scrape enough points from the total of 12 available to escape the drop. Worse, the manager who took us up a year ago, and perhaps the only man with the slightest hope of keeping us there, was sacked in mid-March. Reading are clearly going down.What’s next, I don’t know. The Championship is no easy league to escape from, and even with Premiership money, clubs can sink like stones. Blackburn Rovers, Premier League champions in 1994-95 and a top-flight club less than 12 months ago are in danger of not even being a Championship team next year. The leagues further below are littered with the carcasses of former big teams.
Perhaps I should look on the bright side and be grateful. Grateful that I have one less distraction from what I should be doing right now: writing my thesis, and then finally joining the real world.
But the real world is just far too scary a place to contemplate—why else would I have been in school so long? And all those years as a student have taught me one thing and one thing only: Why do now what you could get done in a coffee-powered all-nighter hours before the deadline?
Instead, searching for solace away from my studies and away from heartbreak, and trying somehow to fill that soccer void in my life, I signed up for IM soccer. I hit two goals past our first opponents a week ago, but our most recent game ended in a 4-0 defeat.
As much as I might be trying to escape, it seems that the harsh realities of life and soccer are coming for me.
Tom Taylor’s teammates don’t have the heart to tell him that his two goals went in the wrong net. If you have the courage to give Tom the bad news, email him at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.