Referring to the other football – the one where the ball actually gets touched with the foot – legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously remarked that football (still the European kind) was not a matter of life and death – it was “much more important than that”. To be frank, I never really got the chance to reflect on these words while my four-year old son laid on a hospital bed for five days, suffering from a double-whammy of infections and subjected to a battery of tests that never fully revealed what he was battling. His condition was far from life-threatening, but it is always a traumatic experience for a parent to see their child in pain and distress. I had little time for Jake Long’s knee or who would fill the free safety position on the Rams secondary, issues which, while not keeping me up at night, would normally be at the forefront of my mind. For those five days, I was not, among many things, a Rams fan; I was just a father.
Fortunately, my son recovered, and it was after his return home that I went back to the world of the St Louis Rams. Ramblin’ Fan was, obviously, my first destination, but a large number of other sites, blogs, and Twitter accounts were consulted in order to update me on how that world had moved on while mine had stood still in that darkened hospital room with the Pinocchio mural. There were reports on OTA’s, and on a scuffle between Kenny Britt and Trumaine Johnson (is it a bit early to extract the claws?), while the name Sean Hooey, taking reps at left tackle in practice, drew a puzzled brow. This was quite soon after we had re-settled as a family, perhaps a sign of a hunger of which I had been unaware during my enforced period of Rams starvation. Now that life has resumed, it is back to the familiar routine of regular checks to make sure that I keep abreast of developments, even in this quiet time of year.
And it is perhaps here where sports – and any other hobby or interest, for that matter – play a vital function. To us, they represent a semblance of normality, a habit that helps take our minds off the mundane chore of work, bills and kids, but which we can easily abandon in times of crisis. It anchors our lives and, be it in the sickness or in health of whatever franchises we follow, it is the mother that we run to when all is better. To me, reading about the Rams once again meant all was fine.
But sports also bring strangers together. From high-fiving fellow Rams fans in Wembley Way or friendly banter with rival fans in Candlestick Park, these lives randomly cross paths with only a mutual interest forcing a brief interaction. And it makes someone who you have never met face-to-face, who lives on the other side of the world, and who you know only as a name and a profile picture, but with whom you have a shared enthusiasm for a bunch of players who dress in blue-and-gold, give you his best wishes for your son and offer his help during a tough time. And, for that, I will always be grateful.
Now, who the hell is Sean Hooey?