The first time I lived anywhere near a Liverpool bar I was a sophomore in college, living in New York City. It was seven miles away; I could make it there in 30 minutes flat if the 1 train pulled in the same second I arrived at the platform, but I had always had to leave extra time for when that inevitably didn’t happen and instead it moseyed up ten minutes later. Then, there was the extra ten minutes I had to factor in for the pregame rituals: not just the rousing chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that rang louder than the Sunday morning church bells but also the time it would take to fight through the throng of people in front of the bar. Sure, it could be a hassle, especially because the 1 train was oft not running at all on the weekends; and yes, every minute counted at 7:30am on Saturdays and Sundays. But I loved the feeling of being amongst this friendly, happy, angry, drunk, loud group of people.
But when I was a sophomore in college, I was also returning to school for the first time after hospitalization for a suicide attempt. I was finally just beginning to navigate and control the major depression that I had been diagnosed with six years earlier, rather than ignoring it. I was trying to live with (although sometimes it felt more like in spite of) the absolute worst feelings in the world. And all of this would color and tint my fanhood, like it did and still does every aspect of my life, whether I liked it or not.
Of course, uncontrollable sadness sometimes — or often, depending on whom you root for — goes hand in hand with soccer, as with any sport; of course there will be distress even when your team loses a game, or is relegated, or your favorite player is sold, or — completely hypothetically — if a player on your team slipped and blew the clearest shot to your first title in over two decades. Hypothetically.
And yes, when Liverpool lost that game to Crystal Palace in 2014, the rest of my Saturday eerily mirrored a capital-B, capital-D Bad Day: I turned off my phone, shut my computer, pulled the covers over my head, and took a nap that was frighteningly long considering I had woken up three hours prior. But the difference came the next day; I got up. I turned my phone back on to commiserate with my dad over the phone while doing the same with other fans on Twitter. It was cathartic to nitpick and complain and play the ‘what if’ game; it felt good that there were other people who felt exactly like I did; and it was nice to be reminded that there was always next game and next week and next year, which, when it comes to soccer-induced and not clinical depression, are all things to look forward to.
On the other hand, when the root of the problem was not Steven Gerrard’s fatal mistake and rather my brain, my phone stayed off. I stayed in bed. I was too mentally and physically exhausted to talk to anyone — if I had even wanted to, which I usually didn’t. I was depressed.
It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though I could remember, albeit vaguely, the happiness I would feel when surrounded by the other fans at the bar, I still knew there was no way I was going to be able to make it downtown when the crushing weight of existence was making it difficult to even getting up to go to the bathroom.
And so I just stared at my clock, watching the minutes slowly creep past when I’d need to leave to get there early, then past when I’d need to leave to get there at kickoff, and then, what seemed to come somehow both quickly and slowly, past the entire two-hour game. And that was when I could get myself up that early to begin with; having the burning desire to never wake up (and sometimes succeeding in not doing so until 3pm, at the very least) gets in the way of waking up for, let alone traveling what could be up to an hour for, 7am or even 10am kickoffs. When it came down to it, I was going to conserve the small amount of energy I had for simply trying to eat something — not for traveling, chanting, or shouting obscenities at the referee through the bar television.
But then I’d feel worse. I imagined the packed bar, and I would shift from missing the camaraderie to feeling like I didn’t deserve it at all. Kickoff times weren’t any later for anyone else than they were for me, and they had all gotten themselves out of bed and onto the barstools. Meanwhile, I often didn’t have the energy — or the interest, which depression always seems to snatch first — to even put the game on my computer in my room.
I was a fraud. I shouldn’t have had that Liverpool flag flying above my bed, but in that state I just didn’t have the strength, literally, to climb up and take it down.
And when I’d finally snap out, I’d be glad that I didn’t. As I felt myself starting to become more of myself again, and as I started to gather expendable energy that didn’t need to be used up turning in papers for which I had also watched the time slip away, the first thing I wanted to do was watch soccer. And then I would be back at the bar, masochistically letting my team be the one draining all the happiness from my weekend — except with that came letting the fans surrounding me cheer me up. At the very least, by buying me another drink.
Talking about this in the past tense hasn’t been to say that either of these versions of sadness no longer happens; neither my soccer teams’ recurring failures nor my irregular brain chemistry have been cured. But it’s been three years since I was a sophomore, so I have three more years of experience navigating, controlling, and most importantly combatting these feelings when they do come — and believe me, they come. But I haven’t missed a Liverpool game for a season and a half, and I’ve found my way to the bar for the majority; so I’d say the learning curve is stretching, sometimes achingly but always persistently, in the right direction.