Gladbach is really stuck in a rut of poor play. Prior to the international break, Salomon Kalou scored a hat trick for Hertha Berlin in a 3-0 win over 10-man Borussia Mönchengladbach; upon their return, the Foals fell to local rivals Köln, then could only draw with Hoffenheim. A German Team is struggling to score goals, to remember how defending works as a basic concept, and to stay on the pitch as a team with eleven players.
Despite having just suffered through a fifth straight Bundesliga loss, I bought a “A German Team” scarf using money I earned from my first piece for Unusual Efforts, and naively hoped it would arrive in Chicago in time for Fabian Johnson to start for the United States against Mexico and Costa Rica. I’m happy to fangirl with anyone who will listen to me praise the Belgian prodigies that are the Hazard brothers and sling slurs at Fox Sports 1 commentators when they talk about how “dynamically” their opponents are playing. As a young Jewish American woman who isn’t exactly sure where she falls on the Kinsey scale, I’m probably not considered part of the target audience for the Bundesliga. Still, I became enraptured with the team during an exceptionally difficult time.
In September, my grandmother died at the age of 86, just two months before her 87th birthday on November 10th and the Presidential Election on November 8th. She lived through too many bouts of cancer to count, survived the death of her husband, and made it through nearly a decade of depression and anger over her existence in this world. After all she’d survived, she was still willing and able to criticize me for not bringing a shawl to cover my scandal-ridden cleavage at Thanksgiving dinner every year. She was not a warm or cuddly “Nana” or “Grandma” who knitted sweaters or attended recitals. She was a nasty bitch, just like all of her descendants, and she loved to tear us down with reproach, then build us up with words of encouragement. To those of us who loved her it seemed incomprehensible that this grand matriarch of our family could actually die. But then, she did.
After my sister flew back to Florida to convene with my brother, mother and I, we began the drive from South Florida to Gainesville to make arrangements for my grandmother’s funeral. We had invested a few years back in a mobile wifi device that allowed us to stay connected via our laptops, phones and respective electronics for the duration of the road trip. That day, Gladbach played Ingolstadt in a league match before their Champions League appearance against Barcelona later in the week.
On this drive, I became a fan of this team for all sorts of weird, seemingly wrong reasons. Goals were actually scored, sure (Gladbach has done this before and we have the photographic evidence), but hitting the woodwork seemed more popular. Plus the game was being played out in a foreign league with difficult-to-pronounce names and few players I could recognize. But it was pretty football with human beings sprinting like gazelles for hours and referees taking shots of schnapps without reproach or question.
Founded in 1900, the Foals have been galavanting over German pitches for more than 115 years, and their long existence provoked a sense of permanence similar to that provided by my grandmother. She seemed to be immortal despite a decade-long series of illnesses and afflictions that would bring lesser people down. There was a service, a casket lined with flowers, mourners in pews crying at the appropriate moments, eulogies dedicated to her life and her relationships, and us in the second row. At the gravesite, the mourner’s kaddish was recited, dirt was shoveled and thrown seat below the surface onto a wood box, more tissues were given out and we left to go home. The whole affair felt artificial, like a masquerade. She must be waiting at a restaurant for us to arrive so she boast to her friends about the accomplishments of her grandchildren. But somehow she wasn’t and life moved on.
With my return to Chicago, Gladbach continued to play week in and week out, whether in the Champions League as A German Team or against the corporate giants of German football in Munich. It was in the small moments that I would realize that the matriarch of my family was gone and that the very fabric of my family had immeasurably changed. It was a phone call with my mother when she was overwhelmed cleaning out my grandmother’s spider-ridden behemoth of a house in Northern Florida. When I was hearing the gossip about Prince Harry (I’m human and c’mon), I remembered her story of meeting the Queen and Prince Charles with my exceedingly drunk grandfather who evidently did not make a good impression. Then I’d get back to refreshing my frozen webpage to watch Bayern Munich predictably beat the Foals 2-0.
But when I woke up on November 9th, it felt like a seismic shift had occurred. The sunlight looked different, grayer somehow. This was the first presidential election I was privileged to vote in, and I remember feeling so confident when I sent in my absentee ballot to the Broward County Supervisor of Election’s Office. My grandmother would’ve moved hell and high water to somehow vote in person, then likely gloated over being able to do so for the first female President of the United States. While she had the implicit biases and prejudices typical of her generation, she was also the first person to tell you that she was a patron of Emily’s List, a proudly elitist blue dog Democrat and a nasty feminist.
And so I’m relieved my grandmother was not here to see the results of this election. Meandering around my campus with smeared makeup, I could’ve sworn I was headed in a certain direction, but with uncertainty hanging over everything I’ve believed and trusted, the world looked like a foreign wasteland.
Then I remembered that I had the Hex coming up in a few days.
Because traditional American sports leagues only operate on a seasonal schedule, there is something so gluttonous and overindulgent about the year-round availability of soccer to watch, analyze and rant about. Gladbach is not only playing in the Bundesliga with every league game carried by Fox Soccer, but they’re playing in the Champions League against opponents television stations love to broadcast. Despite the muted sunshine, I knew I could find dozens of articles theorizing about the future of a German Team. If it’s not Gladbach, I can watch Thorgan Hazard play with his brother for Belgium. Then it was on to the Hex, and thinking about what formation Jurgen will play Fabian Johnson in (Now, of course, the question is different: no word has been given thus far on whether Fabian has been proven to have sufficient heart muscles to be called back to wear the red, white and blue).
On November 9th, I woke up to a world that so many people were already familiar with, but one that’d I’d been fortunate enough to be blissfully unaware of on account of my class, race and upbringing. I no longer viewed the United States through a perspective shaped by privileged liberalism, but saw a country that did not believe in the values that had been championed and assumed by my close sphere of family, friends and peers. This election meant that I felt, for truly the first time, the fears of a population that’s worried about threats not just to their freedom but to their very existence. While I considered myself to be fairly knowledgeable on racism, sexism, and genderism, my privileged status as a white woman kept me sequestered from concrete threats. I feel like a new citizen now, one intent on both understanding how to expand my worldview and fight alongside who stand to suffer the most.
I’m a 20 year old student set to graduate into an America that feels foreign, but I know is simply unknown, uncharted territory that I’ve kept at a considerable distance. The listening, the talking, the learning, the fighting will take its toll – and we’ll all need to find ways to care for and comfort ourselves.For me, that comfort is found in the knowledge that I will still have Gladbach after this international break mercifully ends. Just hearing about the common-sense censures on FabJo’s former national team coach and trade rumors about Mahmoud Dahoud helped me remember that this is the same world that I woke up to on Tuesday.
The sheer existence of Gladbach functioned as a coping mechanism for me amid the post-election fallout. German football beyond their World Cup prowess may be new for me, but I’ve studied up on the reputations these clubs have built up as commanding towers of football and incoming corporate giants. When it comes to the Bundesliga, I can remain confident that Bayern Munich and Dortmund will challenge for the title pretty much every year, and that Bayer Medicine can continue paying Chicharito’s salary for as long as they want to. These legacies and assumptions enshrined in football clubs will continue and endure, and eventually A German Team’s cross will deflect perfectly off the post into the net. So many of us need to cope and find something to ground ourselves in this post-election reality, and all the better for Fox Sports Bundesliga Matchday if you use Hertha Berlin, or even Bayern Munich.
Knowing that football, fútbol and soccer will continue without question helped give me the impulse to get out of bed, put on a bold lip and head to downtown Chicago where we took over Michigan Avenue in the name of human decency and patriotism. My grandmother died and Gladbach played. The world changed and Fabian Johnson was on the roster for the Hex.