International breaks are, generally, the worst. We get no Liverpool Football, for one. The potential for injuries looms. And did I mention that we don’t get Liverpool Football? It is a barren wasteland for a club supporter who, like me, does not have a current rooting interest in International football.
So it might come as a surprise, then, that I am actually looking forward to this break. No, I’m not looking forward to not having my weekend go-to of turning on the LFC match to go w/ my morning coffee and my baby’s goofy antics. I’m not looking forward to this void in Liverpool-related happenings and moving one step closer to learning how this wonderful season might conclude.
No, I’m looking forward to this pause in the action for a simple reason: sometimes, we all need a bit of a respite. And as this Liverpool squad managed to just beat the doors closing on their title challenge with a nervy win over last place Fulham this past weekend (more on that later), I felt this team needed a breather in the worst way.
I do not keep the most healthy of habits in my life. This is a thing that’s been made abundantly clear to me via the work of therapy and something I constantly have to work on. Namely, I can tend to, in times of deep stress and anxiety, try to tune out my mind and body’s common signals to slow down by doing the exact opposite. One of the ways I notice this has been to take stock of how messy my car is. If I’ve got a ton of empty bottles laying about? Yup. I’ve been stressed. Bonus points, I guess, if I reach for my go-to de-stress beverage: Coca Cola Classic.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a Modern Professional Footballer™ plying their trade in the age of 24/7 cable coverage and constant fan chatter. I don’t know what it’s like to do so in the midst of a title challenge. And I certainly have no clue what it’s like to do this for a team with a deep history but hasn’t tasted this glory in three decades.
That is to say, I don’t know what it’s like to be a Liverpool Football Player in this current moment. But I do know that, if I were on this current Liverpool squad, whatever fancy car I might own would have the backseat strewn with empty Coca Cola bottles.
Much has been made of late of a particular Egyptian Striker’s current goal-scoring form. Sitting on 49 Premier League goals scored for Liverpool, Mohamed Salah is on the edge of history. He’s also gone 7 matches now without a goal. It’s a long run for a man as skilled as Mo. It’s a long run that would undoubtedly play with anyone’s mind.
At the end of the match on Sunday, I wondered how many Coca Cola bottles I might find around Mo’s locker.
The thing about chasing a title is that it’s a long and difficult climb. It’s not going to be easy. And that destination is often made sweeter by the winding road we take to reach it. That road also often contains lessons for us we never expect.
When I think back on how I first recognized, in real time, how I ignored my body and mind during these moments of stress, it was in the midst of a literal climb. I was on the way back down of a long and difficult day hike up one of the local mountains here in Southern California. It’s a short trail: 8 miles round trip. But the grade is steep and is often used a finishing hike for people training to hike Mount Whitney. I’d done it before, but it never stops being a challenge that takes a lot out of you.
I’m not sure what it was about today in particular. I think I made sure to pack enough food and I know I had enough water - I distinctly remember it swishing around in my water pack. I know I was tired which is probably all I needed for my mind to begin to fray.
But I also know that I was scared. I have fear of heights. And this trail isn’t the most narrow but, again, it’s pretty vertical. There isn’t a point where things meet what hikers call a saddle until really high up. And on the way down, you don’t find a flat and wide landing until the trail essentially ends back at the main road.
So, there I was walking and trying to just get it over with when I hit a rock and, being that I have terrible balance, I stumbled and planted my foot close to the edge of the trail. It would’ve been a steep drop.
My wife asked if I was ok and, in a moment I wish I could have back, I was just short with her. She told me, though, that we could go slower. And take our time. Which reminded me, for a moment, that my therapist had gone over this exact scenario with me. Reminding me not to put my head down and just “get it over with.” To have compassion for myself and take a breather.
My wife got me off that mountain. My therapist got me off that mountain. Slowing down and taking a breath got me off that mountain.
Climbing to the top of this current iteration of the Premier League Mountain was never going to be easy. We’ve lost players to injury. We’ve gotten anxious over tactical changes. We’ve felt our stomachs sink when results lead to dropped points.
And the think I keep remembering is how heavy the burdens must be on the guys on the pitch. How they must wear our anxieties to some degree. How they necessarily know the history and are carrying the weight of an entire fanbase, sherpa-ing all of them up this steep ascent.
So, I welcome this break now. Or, at least, I’m learning to. Because those legs could use a bit of rest. Those brains maybe need a bit of refreshing to properly identify better runs or pressing triggers. And of course, we’d all love to see an old friend or two make it back, just in time to reach the summit together.