The people who run sport, market sport, and present sport to us via TVs, radios, and newspapers often like to overlook something absolutely crucial to our enjoyment of sport: hating your rivals. To me, and to most of my friends, hating Manchester United if you’re a Liverpool fan, Spurs if you’re an Arsenal fan, Rangers if you’re a Celtic fan is integral to your life as a fan.
It’s one of the few areas of my life where being irrational is acceptable, too. Some clodhopper happens to clip Fernando Torres heels near the box, it should be a penalty and the clodhopper should be sent off FOREVER. If Cristiano Ronaldo is cynically ploughed into, studs up, stretchered off, I’m writing to the Queen, asking to see Sir Clodhopper in the New Year’s Honours, and Ronaldo to be sent off for faking injury.
Last night we went down to Seattle to see the Mariners play the Red Sox. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve gone to a game to actively root against a team. Claire’s a Mariners fan, and I’m guessing that a game against the Red Sox is the only time where I’m gonna be totally on her side with that.
We got into town mid-afternoon, and walking down the street, looking for somewhere to eat, we passed a guy in a Red Sox shirt. He pointed at my Montreal Expos cap, and shouted “Cool cap!” I pointed at his shirt, smiled, and gave him the thumbs down. He laughed, we laughed, a funny moment for all.
We pottered around for a while, seeing a fair few Red Sox fans along the way. It was during the afternoon that I realised the possible conflict that could come from me putting on a red sweatshirt in the morning, so we went into the Mariners store and I bought a cap from a 1930s Seattle team, the Seattle Rainiers, so my potentially vociferous support for the Mariners could have at least a modicum of the appearance of sincerity, even though it was entirely the support of a Yankees fan wanting to see Boston lose.
Inside the stadium, there were loads of Red Sox fans. Apart from Canadians in Seattle on Canada Day to watch the Toronto Blue Jays last summer, it’s the most away team fans I’ve seen at a baseball game. They were loud, too. It was horrible. Every so often, I’d see someone who particularly took my dis-fancy, and I’d snarl at Claire, “Look at that cunt with the cunty face and cunty cap and cunty Pedroia t-shirt.” She’d look at me like I was nuts and say, “She’s about six years old, Craig!”
We had a go on the pitching speed gun thingy they have in the stadium. The batter mannequin was dressed in a Yankees shirt, and I watched as a couple of men my age deliberately hit the mannequin with their throws. For one thing, what the flip are the Mariners doing, clearly pandering to the away team’s supporters in their own stadium? Claire kicked my ass at pitching speed, by the way: she threw a 53 mph pitch, my best was 43 mph. Still, that’s two miles per hour faster than I did two years ago at the Durham Bulls stadium.
We sat in the sun in the outfield for a while before the game. I continued chuntering, making for a fun experience for Claire, I’m sure. Finally, took our seats for the game. I booed the announcement of the Red Sox line-up and cheered the Mariners line-up. I saved my biggest boos for the Boston catcher, the least like-able human this side of, oh I dunno… Hitler?
One eye was on the out-of-town scoreboard, where I could see the Yankees were losing 4-2 to the Twins. Things got worse, with a Red Sox run in both the first and second innings, then another two in the third. The Red Sox fans were making all the noise. The out-of-town scoreboard showed that it was 4-3 now in New York and the ninth inning over there seemed to be taking ages. Eventually, the scoreboard changed to show a final score: Yankees had won 5-4. At that point, it became easier to write off a 4-0 Boston lead as one of those things, knowing that the good guys had won in New York.
Then things changed. Ichiro hit a home run in the fifth, then an inning later, after another couple of Mariners runs, he hit another. Mariners were winning. An obscenely gobby Red Sox fan in the section in front of ours did his best to shout over the “Let’s go Mariners” chants, but found himself a bit more outnumbered than when his team were winning 4-0.
Some fine pitching from the Mariners bullpen later, and the ball game was over. Mariners win. Being a twat, I demanded we leave the stadium via one of the least-used exits, against the main flow of traffic. My vocal reason for this was it was closest to where the car was parked, but really, I just wanted to see lots of unsmiling Red Sox fans walking in the opposite direction. I got my wish, and O! how joyful it was to see.
In the car park, things got better when a particularly loud dude was sat in his car with the door open barking into a phone about how he’d just watched the Red Sox lose and how pissed off he was. I sat there with a smug grin on my face. And, waiting at traffic lights outside the stadium, we watched a clearly drunk and unhappy fan leaning against a tree. I got my camera out just in time to get a blurry photo of him beginning to lose his footing, just before he fell on his Red Sox-supporting ass.
Aaah, the joy of hating your rivals, it can’t be beat. Of course, when the Yankees come to Seattle in August, I’ll be one of those obnoxious away team fans, and there’ll be a Red Sox fan passive-aggressively wearing a Rainiers cap moaning to his wife about that horrible, hateful, bearded, speccy bloke in the Yankees cap…