As an American sports fan as well as an Evertonian, the past year has been one of the more interesting ones in my life of following sports. Last summer the United States tried my patience as they came from behind in every World Cup match before finally surrendering the lead a second time to Ghana in the knockout stages. I bit my nails every single minute as the U.S. conceded early, and clawed their way back through howlers and luck, mistakes and perseverance. Even a little bit of nonsense from the referees was not enough. But despite all the happiness, at the end of the World Cup there was a sense of frustration and disappointment from Americans. The past year since Landon Donovan put the ball into the back of the Algerian net and Ian Darke's incredulous voice has been a trying time for Americans, and it is safe to say that pessimism is at an all time high for American fans.
Of course shortly after the World Cup everyones attention turned to club soccer, and with it our dear club Everton's high expectations. Going back to August this was supposed to be the year the squad finally roared out of the gate in hopes of securing at least a European spot, if not a possible Champions League berth. With everyone on the team fairly healthy their seemed to be no excuse for a slow start. Then the slow start happened, with the squad winning the games they should lose, and drawing the games they should win. The only solace in this came from across Stanley Park as Liverpool apepeared to be in even more dire straights than the Toffees, and the October version of the Merseyside Derby ended up being a highlight for the blue side of town.
For two hours the veil of despair was lifted as an inspired Everton side absolutely demolished their counterparts, and all sadness and worry was washed from fans minds as the team thundered to a 2-0 victory. Of course this did not last, and the season ended with a sense of what could have been. Sure we had some great games like the 5-3 victory against Blackpool, or both 2-1 victories against Manchester City, but the ultimate feeling around Goodison Park was one of disappointment.
Of course the play on the field is nothing compared to how Evertonians feel about matters off the field. It seems as if the sky is falling every day with news about the lack of money at Finch Farm, the need to sell players before buying new ones, and to top it all off the club continues to lose money at a small rate. There are also new supporters groups popping up to protest the reign of Kenwright, and to top it off, every article that mentions Everton seems to have a note of uncertainty and depression in it. Times indeed are dark on Merseyside, although the extent is certainly debatable. Despite these problems there is only one thing that matters.
In the end we don't watch the game for the high priced players nor the flamboyant coaches, nor do we watch it for the crazy owner who fires a coach because he reaches the quarterfinals of the Champions League a year after winning a double or the referee who thinks he is the center of the game by handing out yellow cards as if he is handing out candy. All of these things are forgotten, and what truly matters is the moments. The goal coming in stoppage time to put a national team into the quarterfinals, the free kick curling over the wall to tie a game at the end of extra time, or even a header that propels a small squad to the most unlikeliest of competitions. These moments are the most important things in sports, and at the end of the day it is all we want.
Nowhere am I reminded of this fact more than this past Saturday when I watched my beloved New York Yankees play a baseball game. For those who don't follow baseball, Derek Jeter is the Yankees' shortstop and captain, and one of the greatest Yankees to ever don the uniform. On Saturday Jeter was 2 hits shy of 3f,000 career hits, something only 27 players before him had ever accomplished, approximately .16% of all professional baseball players. The past 2 seasons Jeter has not been playing at his best, the best comparison would be to Mike Arteta who after many quality seasons had a subpar year. The fans and media have all looked on in shock as this great player has aged in a most ungraceful manner. But this day he managed to turn back the clock and get to 3,000 hits in stunning fashion. Jeter became the 2nd player to hit a home run for his 3,00th hit, and as it happened any disappointment about Jeter's performance over the last two years had disappeared. Instead it was like watching a 25 year-old shortstop decide where to hit the ball, and it was the type of joy reserved for those times when the goosebumps rise on your skin, and you may fear the worst, but know the best is going to happen.That is what sports are all about, and hopefully we can remember that as Evertonains.