One Thought: Tangentially Related At Best to Arsenal 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

"Just a second where we're leaving all this shit behind.
Just a second but it's leaving just this much in mind:
To resist despair, the second makes you see.
To resist despair, because you can't change everything.
To resist despair in this world is, what it is what it is what is to be free..."

- Operation Ivy "Sound System"

A few weeks back, I said on here that match reports are going to have to...evolve...shall we say, due to my ongoing adventure in refereeing soccer matches all over the lower New York area on the weekends. Along those lines, the only bit I saw from this one was a clip of the second goal, featuring that other-worldly back-flick assist from Alexis Sanchez. My general plan for these over the next few months was to talk less about the actual things that happened in the game in question, and more using what happened in the match to talk about some larger point about the team, football in general, that sort of thing. I had a rough outline in mind for this particular edition, centering on Brighton hitting the post early on - I will at some point definitely get back to that idea about luck and how much it determines outcomes in a low-scoring sport such as this one.

But, then, Las Vegas happened.

Given that I possess some degree of perspective and humanity, I can't bring myself to drone on about statistical variance and how this sort of thing clouds supporters' judgment of the team and of individual players at times. This football lark is so damn important and central to our lives, right up to the point where it doesn't fucking matter at all.

Well, on second thought, that might be artlessly stated. The nuts and bolts of football - who won, such-and-such is ace, that referee is a wanker - of course, that's the bit that recedes to insignificance when the darker side of real life roars into the forefront. The other aspects that we often take for granted, however, matter an unbelievably great deal.

The thing is, it's difficult at times to see the point of keeping on when it feels like evil always wins. We live in exhausting, troubled times...times that I can't say I could fathom five or ten years ago, when the world felt more centered. I fully understand how imperfect humans are. Hell, I am one, after all. But the sequence of events and decisions that can occur in a person's soul to get them to a point where they're capable of  doing what that man did? It's incomprehensible. It's the kind of thing that makes one feel helpless, small and insignificant. At the surface, it makes a mockery of the idea of any kind of balance in the fabric of the universe.

But, take a breath. Stop. Think. We come back to football, now, to those seemingly-auxiliary features of the experience. The picture I used for this post is old, done by design. It was taken in front of the Blind Pig after some random match on some random day, an indeterminate number of years ago. One moment in time, among the uncountable number that have made up the ten years of our supporter's club's existence, and the formative years before it at Nevada Smith's. At that bleak and gray surface level where despair perpetuates, it doesn't register as worthy of a second glance. However, go back to that breathe-stop-think bit, and look for it. There's power here.

There are two people in this photo who are about to be married later this month. They met here, doing this, screaming in unison at the latest Manuel Almunia clanger or Denilson midfield disasterclass. Just a bunch of people going to watch the football, and all of a sudden it's the rest of two peoples' lives. Fight past the seeming banality of that and *think* about it for a second. It's astonishing. It's awesome. It resonates. Holy shit, I was there as that happened and evolved.

There are some in this photo that I haven't seen in years, or once or twice at most. I miss them terribly. But, thanks to the magic of social media I know they're out there doing their thing, as disparate as that may be. Some are now married, some are killing it at their jobs, some are off exploring the far corners of the world. Whatever it is, it's a great comfort to know they're there, and that they're happy. I'm proud to say that they're my mates, whatever geographic or chronological distance they may be away.

Conversely, there are two different people shown here that I recently ran into again after a significant amount of time. One came to O'Hanlon's on a trip back up to New York, where he became engaged to a lovely woman. The other, I turned up to referee a few matches and there's his mug standing there in one of the goals. You know, it gets lost in the immediacy of the act, but catching up with old friends is a joy matched by few other things in this life. It buttresses a part of the soul that romance or money or slices of NYC pizza leaves unattended.

One woman here, who I also miss terribly, is about to give birth. We also like the same baseball team, who just had the type of horror-show season that we as Arsenal supporters are lucky to have not experienced in our lifetimes (in most cases). I truly hope she hasn't been able to see the games out there in Leeds.

One man here crossed the finish line to parenthood a bit before, and has been a father for a little less than a year. New life! Here! Existing and breathing and...well...pooping everywhere, unless I miss my guess.

Then for something completely different, I almost literally came to blows with one guy here over an NHL playoff game, but I type that with a smile on my face. That's just so fundamentally HIM, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes brothers gotta hug, and sometimes brothers gotta fight.

The woman in the top left is as Arsenal as it gets, the torch passed down to her from her father, who supported the club himself going back to when he was a child. It's a literal connection to our history, to the earliest days of the club. It lives and breathes in us. I think about it sometimes, as I'm watching our current's not that different from the sepia-toned pictures of the folks in suits and flat caps packed like sardines on the old terraces.

There's so many more stories that this picture can tell, stories of amazing people and shared camaraderie, of title wins and the corresponding jumpy screamy beery celebrations, of shared heartbreak. THAT night in Paris. THAT night in Copenhagen. The stunned silence and welled-up tears in the aftermath of THAT fucking League fucking Cup fucking Final. The Bar End of O'Hanlon's, linked arm in arm to will Lukasz Fabianski and the boys to see off Wigan in that FA Cup Semifinal penalty shootout. The Invincibles. Our songs for the bartenders pouring our pints, or the songs sung by the band that the punk kids over there in the corner formed. Going to Papaya Dog or Artichoke at halftime. Oh god, that awful man at Nevada's who hounded you if you didn't have a new pint in your hand every 2.4 seconds.

OK, I get it, I'm taking you down some winding side roads here. Enough with the scenic route, I can hear you saying...what's the point? Despair...bleakness...evil....hopelessness...these things are monolithic. They're big and brash and rage with hurricane force all at once. It seems like an unwinnable fight because of the size and scope of it all. But, goodness and light and hope and love, these are manifested in small, everyday things. You don't even notice them if you're not looking for them. It can add up awfully quickly though, if you let it. It's like that old saw about how much a ton of feathers weighs compared to a ton of lead.

Again, it's just a bunch of people turning up to watch a bunch of dudes kick a ball around. One infinitesimal part of life, but with the power to contain this much. Friendship, love, a shared sense of purpose and identity. These are things you can cling to in times like this. This is what matters.

These may be scary, awful times, but I got all of this, and that ain't nothin'.