Why Dutch? I asked.
“For all of my life I’ve been a Barça and Netherlands supporter. My father encountered the sublime at the World Cup in West Germany 1974…I was born in November of that year in New York, this shirt was my destiny. My parents are from an island, Antigua, that in those days was colonized by the English. But my father, headstrong like my mother, had little interest in the kick-and-chance game that was his presumed colonial inheritance. His joke was that I would never want to play midfield in England because I’d sprain my neck watching the ball flying 20 feet over my head from one end of the pitch to the other all game long. I was hardwired with a deep passion for the football practiced by Cruyff with the Netherlands and Barça. It’s in my veins. Style is a passport, it’s the mark we leave on the world: and so the Dutch and Barça style (Cruyff signed for Barça the year before I was born) were implanted in my head and my heart from birth.
I’m a huge huge huge huge Barça supporter and the club has had a permanent effect on my life: my wife and I are members of the club; her grandfather, my grandfather, has been a member for more than 85 years (his name is inscribed in the walls of Camp Nou along with his brother’s); for years I taped every game and kept them all, which is when my beautiful l, Barcelona-born wife realized that I actually wasn’t just saying that I loved Barça in order to impress her. All of this and yet I don’t own a Barça shirt. You see, Barça is so fashionable these days, so ubiquitous, that a wearing the shirt seems a rather pyrrhic statement to me. Of course, I’m glad the club is so successful and has so many fans but a great club is much more than its laundry, as it’s more than a club: so I carry my Barça colors in my heart…I just prefer it that way. Besides, I’m never wearing publicity across my chest. It hurts me to see how our passion for football is a conduit for our metamorphosis into walking billboards. To each their own, but I refuse.
The only football shirt I still own is my Netherlands shirt. It must be around 15 years old. It’s the shirt of a lifer: it sports my name (I won’t wear another man’s name on my back) and the lettering and numbering are gone after years of being pulled and thrown to the ground in games, squeezing into small places and being washed only to reset and go through it all again. The Euro semi-final the hosting Netherlands lost in penalties to ten-man Italy in 2000 may have been the last time I wore this shirt to watch a game. After that I wore it out on occasion but for the most part I played it, played in it as though I was exercising the pain of all those painful Dutch defeats with each control, pass and shot.”
I met Rowan in the virtual world first. We play in the same fantasy league. But a few days ago I was in New York City and Rowan stepped out of fantasy and we actually met in person. He is an award wining poet and his book The Ground made my trip back to Montreal to pass in no time. Here I dare to share one of his many wonderful poems, Terra Incognita:
I plugged my poem into a manhole cover
That flamed into the first guitar,
Jarred the asphalt and tar to ash,
And made from where there once was
Ground a sound instead to stand on.