When I first started following English Premier League football, Manchester United was the dominant force in the game. Still are, in many way. As my love of football grew over the years, I developed a love/hate relationship with Man U. They were the New York Yankees of English football, winning everything every year it seemed. Their captain at the time was a mad Irishman named Roy Keane. He was always screaming. At referees, at opposing players, at his own teammates. He was a total fucking bastard. He once broke a guy’s leg in a game on purpose and never apologized. He was crazy. A nutter, as the Brits say. And as you’ll see, Keane not only breaks Alf-Inge Haaland’s leg, ending his career; he bends down and taunts him as he’s leaving the field. Like I said. A nutter.
He was also a genius. I was lucky to see him play in an exhibition match about ten years ago in front of 80,000 people at the Meadowlands. Man U was on one of their pre-season tours. They had just sold David Beckham to Real Madrid and taken on a new goalkeeper, an American kid from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars named Tim Howard.
It was wild night. They played Juventus and won, 4-1. Pele was there and waved to the crowd on the Jumbotron. There were real Man U fans who came all the way from England sitting in front of me, real hooligans with tattoos and shaved heads, yelling “fuck!” every other word while drinking $5.00 Budweisers out of plastic bottles, the dozens of empties lined up at their feet. I think Keane even scored a goal, something he rarely did because he was a midfielder.
But the one thing Roy Keane never did was kick and hope. He knew exactly what he was doing at every moment of the game. He never just booted the ball downfield and hoped that a teammate was on the other end of it. He passed with precision, saw the whole pitch, controlled an entire match with his feet. The game ran through him.
As a writer, sometimes I kick and hope. A few days ago, I submitted some essays to a literary website and got rejected. They were good, but even before I submitted them, I knew they weren’t good enough. Still, I kicked and hoped. Hoped that they would squeak by, that some tired, sympathetic editor would be waiting on the receiving end, not wise enough to see through my ploy. One thing I remember Raymond Carver saying about writing was, “No tricks.” As a writer, I can’t hope to fool anyone. I can’t expect to trick someone into liking my stuff, paying me for it. Rejection teaches me to go deeper, to think about one thing as long and as hard as I have ever thought about one thing in my life, and then write about it as honestly and as fiercely as I can. There’s no room for kick and hope in this game. And maybe, at the end of a long, weaving run through my adversary’s half of the pitch, a wonder goal awaits me.