Ciarán Breen is the Off-Pitch Focus writer for The Offside Rule. His writing explores the intersections of sport and politics, with a focus on the beautiful game. Ciarán’s mother says that as a baby his first word was ‘Ian’ followed by ‘Wright, Wright, Wright.’ In his first piece for us, Ciarán touches on something all of us at Under The Cosh can relate to; how migrating to Canada has changed the way he watches football.
Follow Ciarán @keep_score
I get up when I want, except on Saturdays, when I get rudely awakened by Martin Tyler. I put my sweatpants on, have a cup of coffee and I think about not leaving the house till all games are finished. I feed myself – I sometimes feed myself twice. It gives me a sense of enormous well-being. And then I’m happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge that even if we lose there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it.
Five years ago I moved to Toronto, embarking on a new chapter in my life. The relocation was one of mixed emotion – nervous excitement tempered with sadness for what I was leaving behind. In those tumultuous moments, what I made sure I didn’t leave behind was my Arsenal scarf.
Purchased in one of those little kiosks in the strand of an Edinburgh shopping centre when I was ten or eleven years old, it has been a constant companion, becoming a more prized personal possession when Arsenal changed club crests in 2002. It was to prove valuable as Canadian weather offers many an opportunity to sport a practical scarf.
What I didn’t plan for, however, was how the journey west would transform my relationship to supporting Arsenal and to the game I love.
The first game after my arrival was no small matter. Arsenal played Manchester United on May 1st at the Emirates, with Aaron Ramsey scoring the only goal of the game. The victory was in vain as United claimed the title three weeks later but streaming the game at home in my new surroundings I’m sure I was giddy with delight at defeating our rivals, unaware of what was to change.
That change is the five little hours that separate my current home from the first sighting of the West Coast of Ireland. Here, it is called EST (Eastern Standard Time) but to me it will always be GMT-5. The traditional three o’clock kickoffs that with each season are increasingly lost to television scheduling are ten o’clock kickoffs in Toronto. The ‘late game’ – usually 5:30pm GMT – is a lunch time kickoff where I stand now.
In addition, nothing prepared me for the incongruity of being football mad in a place where 99 people out of a hundred couldn’t give a monkey’s. The newspapers carry only snippets, hidden in the corner of a page, the television news announces neither fixtures nor results, there is no excited chatter on the bus about Riyad Mahrez, no one sitting at my local bar bemoaning Rooney’s loss of form.
And so this is how watching football looks for me:
Wednesday, December 9th
As Arsenal are preparing for a crunch Champions League game away to Olympiacos, hoping to put the finishing touches to a miraculous escape act, I am scheming in an attempt to watch some of a game that kicks off at 2:45pm, when I am stuck at work. I consider feigning illness to leave early. I weigh up disappearing at half-time to catch the second period, when the drama will surely unfold. I realise I’ve forgotten my laptop so watching would involve finding a bar showing the game. In the end I stream the game at my desk, with earphones in so I can switch windows at opportune moments. Olivier Giroud tucks away the third and decisive goal and I could burst with joy. But I can’t. I’m at work, where everyone is completely unaware of the match of such significance taking place in Athens, GMT+2.
I sit alone with my glee.
Friday, December 11th
As I head to bed, the calendar on my phone home screen is showing the pending Aston Villa – Arsenal game and for a moment, I am confused and think that the game is on Saturday morning and thus I’ll have to be up early for the 8:30am kickoff. I check with BBC Sport and confirm it’s not until Sunday. I scroll through Saturday’s fixtures on LiveScore, deciding which ‘3 o’clock kickoff’ (see 10am) I will commit to and if there’s any fixtures in the other major European leagues I might like to check out after Bournemouth play Man Utd in the ‘late game’.
Saturday, December 12th
I have a late notice commitment so for once, I begrudgingly start my weekend football-less. A friend I’ve been consulting on which games to watch when you don’t have allegiances is texting me to say how great the Crystal Palace-Southampton game is. It was an entertainment banker and I am restless. I make it home in time for the game on the south coast and am not disappointed as The Cherries record another impressive victory. Before dinner, I watch Match of the Day, childhood memories of which tell my body it is time for bed.
Later, when I get home from a friend’s party, I begin my pre-match ritual. One of my roommates sleeps next to the kitchen so I know I can’t make any noise in the morning. There being no box cereal I soak porridge oats in almond milk, with raisins, nuts and cocoa powder. Often I pour cornflakes into a bowl so I don’t make the crunch crunch crunch in the morning. I put coffee and water in the stove-top espresso maker. I put sugar in a mug. I cut two slices of bread and put them in the toaster slots.
It’s 2am and I hit the hay, knowing there will be no lie-in awaiting me.
Sunday, December 13th
At 8:15 my alarm goes off. I check my phone to confirm I have the kick off time right. I throw some cold water on my face in the bathroom, pour some orange juice in a glass and power up my computer. I’m still having trouble opening my eyes and focusing but sitting up in bed, I load the stream and pull the blankets over my legs. The stream is stuttery for the first ten minutes. I’ve been having trouble with the internet connection. This is a stressful start to the morning. Eventually it smooths out and I relax as Arsenal take an early lead and it becomes clear that this Aston Villa side will offer little resistance.
At half-time, I prepare my breakfast. This serving is low on the luxury scale that I usually climb for match day. I tend to take the lead from the kind of people who go for weekend morning strolls and eggs benedict, by pre-cooking a homemade cooked breakfast feast. As Arsenal stroll to a 2-0 victory though, I am fully satisfied. I then flick back and forth between the games at White Hart Lane and Anfield, catching the late drama in both.
I meet a friend who is a casual football fan for a kick-about in a park. The weather is unseasonably warm in Toronto and so it is wonderful to still be playing outside. Afterwards we grab burritos and head back to his place to take in the Juventus-Fiorentina top of the table clash. With a warm cup of tea in my hand and some company, I am content. It has been another great weekend of football watching.
Tomorrow, I will go to work and pretend it never happened.
This Christmas I will be attending two Arsenal games at the Emirates, in person, live in Greenwich Mean Time. It will be strange. It be wonderful. I’ll sit in a pub before and after and chat with my brother about whether or not Arsene Wenger will dip into the transfer market to find cover for the injured Cazorla and Coquelin. I’ll wear my scarf not just to keep warm to but to show my colours in North London. But by the time the third round of the FA Cup comes around, I’ll be back in my bed, bleary eyed, coffee in hand, quietly cheering on my team while the city around me sleeps.
Follow Ciarán @keep_score