Sports Ruin My Life/Keep Me Sane.

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(N.B. I originally wrote this piece around the same time last year, but for some reason, it languished unfinished on my drafts, until I found it again this year. While I am doing much better now, the general sentiment remains the same.)

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“When someone talks about something/someone they love, let them. You have no idea how much that love has saved them.”

I posted that thought as a tweet many months ago, and it got a lot of interactions and positive replies.

I sit here right now in front of the TV, watching a Wimbledon match, and I was ramdomly struck by the thought: “How many years have I been doing this?”

The truth is that I am struggling right now. I shall not bore or burden you with the minutest details, but I am in that place where I am aware of how I am still fortunate and blessed in the grand scheme of things, but at the same time, I am deeply dissatisfied with myself and my current situation. Not somewhere you’ll want to be, I assure you.

Anyway, the sound of tennis balls rhythmically getting whacked got me into thinking how several sports have managed to not only entertain me, but also kept me (relatively) sane and cocooned (both positively and negatively) from real life throughout the years. Watching sports has become one of my self-care/self-preservation mechanisms, and here’s a (not-quite-so) brief rundown of my history.

I used to feel kind of…alone back then, when I realized just how unusual my coping mechanism of watching and following multiple sports was. Surely there were more people like me? Nobody I knew in real life could relate to this side of myself, and it was partly frustrating and at the same time, strangely satisfying.

Enter the Internet.

However, I am getting a little ahead of myself…

Tennis

A local government TV channel used to broadcast old Wimbledon matches at odd hours, and I remember watching them as a kid, when I refused to take afternoon naps and there wasn’t anything interesting/good on TV. Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi became my instant favorites, and when my family finally got cable TV installed, Wimbledon became my favorite Tennis Grand Slam. All throughout high school, I would stay up late watching the matches, and it continued until my university years and beyond. There is something soothing about the sound of tennis balls being whacked. The level of competition and fitness required to succeed and dominate is just insane. Of course now my absolute favorites are the inimitable Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, and yes, I dedicated a whole blog post to explain why.

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Snooker

I’ve struggled with insomnia for a huge part of my life, and I suppose my schedule and workload in university exacerbated it. I’ve often seen Snooker matches on TV when I channel-surfed, but ignored them because I was more of a 9 Ball pool fan back then, aside from the fact that I had no clue how the game was played. A good friend from university managed to convince me to give it a watch, and when I researched and understood the rules, I could not stop watching it. Hooked was an understatement! There was something about the sound of the snooker balls colliding that calmed me, and I loved mentally calculating the points and anticipating the tactics/snookers (yes, I am such a geek at times). Coincidentally, back then most Snooker matches were televised after midnight, so my parents often found me sitting in front of the TV during the wee hours of the morning, watching men in bow ties with long sticks skillfully hiding balls. Every now and then, my Dad used to join me, and I had to explain to him all the rules, after which I often found him asleep after around half an hour of watching. Turns out Snooker was too soothing for him.

P.S. I was beyond heartbroken when my then-favorite snooker player Paul Hunter passed away. A few years after that, my sports cable channels ceased televising snooker matches altogether. I still miss it.

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9 Ball Pool

Filipino players are extremely good at it. Efren Bata Reyes is a legend of the sport. My father and brother plays it recreationally, and that’s why I gravitated towards watching it. Cable TV enabled me to watch many international matches, albeit at strange hours. I loved the technicalities and the trick shots and watching Physics in action. I even became a bit invested in the Mosconi Cup, 9 Ball Pool’s version of the Ryder Cup, as well as the World Cup of Pool. I’m not sure why but my cable sports channel somehow stopped televising pool competitions.

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Golf

Speaking of the Ryder Cup, I had a Golf Phase. I think it was partly because I chat with a lot of British Football fans at that time, which influenced me to check out the Ryder Cup. Of course I was firmly Team Europe. I despised those “In the hole!” screams from American fans every time their player hits the ball. I had (/have) a soft spot for Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, and I was so pleased when Garcia finally got the Masters he deserves.

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Rugby

It was the year 2003. I couldn’t escape the coverage of the Rugby World Cup, so I thought, if you can’t beat them, join them. Even before I watched my first match, I’ve already chosen England to support, to match my Football Team, and for consistency’s sake. Being a newbie, I had no idea back then that England wasn’t highly-fancied to go far, let alone win the World Cup. But I didn’t care, the more matches I watched, the more I enjoyed the sport. Fast forward to the Final and I couldn’t be more pleased that England made it. By then, I was already far too emotionally-involved. I prayed to the Rugby gods to let England take the cup. And that amazing Jonny Wilkinson tournament-winning drop goal? It still gives me the chills. Post-WC, I went full-geek and learned about the sport, the history, the Rugby Union vs Rugby League thing/rivalry. I managed to maintain being up-to-date on it for several years, but the decline in coverage of it in my country gradually lessened my passion for it, too. I still faithfully watch the Six Nations and the World Cups, and yes, despite not being able to sustain their level or even equal their 2003 campaign, I still have a very soft spot for the England Rugby Team.

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Basketball

I became a basketball fan at the age of two, mainly because my Dad used to watch it a lot. We supported different local teams, and had a “friendly but heated” rivalry. Basketball was, and is, still quite huge in my country. I remember rushing home after school just so I can watch the local league matches on TV, and buying stacks of local basketball magazines just to get to know my favorite players and to further understand the sport. My moods sometime were influenced by how my teams fared. As I grew older, my interest expanded to the NBA, and Michael Jordan became the Ultimate Basketball Player/Demigod in my book. Basketball was IT for me back then, until, one day, serendipity made a certain sport permanently dislodge it from my heart. Which brings us to…

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Football

Where do I even begin? I suppose I can (partly) blame Michael Owen for igniting my interest. I randomly chanced upon the highlights of the Liverpool vs Wimbledon match where he scored his first-ever goal for Liverpool FC, and for some reason (other than overactive teenage hormones), I had the feeling that that fresh-faced boy–just a few years older than I am–will become a worldwide superstar. A few months and some heavy-duty research later, I was a bona fide Liverpool FC fan, and the World Cup 1998 started. That World Cup changed my life. It was the first World Cup I’ve seen on free TV thanks to the official Philippine government channel. It was the first time I watched match reruns over and over again. Owen’s Spectacular Goal vs Argentina cemented my prediction that he will become Football’s Golden Boy. I literally cried when the England players shed tears after their penalty shootout loss. It was the first time I foregone sleep to watch the France vs Brazil Final, and finally understood why it is the most popular sport in the world. I used to save my allowance to buy the ridiculously expensive magazines. When my parents decided to get cable TV, I had my fill of highlights shows and the UEFA Champions League. When I finally got coverage of the English Premier League, I felt as if Life had finally begun (insert singing cherubs here). I joined Football forums, Football chat rooms, Football groups, the whole nine yards. I learned about formations, tactics, player backgrounds, club histories and rivalries. I wrote to players (cringe) to get autograph cards. I attempted to stream cup finals on dial-up internet. I made friends from all over the world because of Football. I’d be so engrossed discussing Football with fellow fans that I’d go to sleep at 9AM and then wake up at 1PM to go to university. I’d stay up to do my architectural drawings with the Spanish Primera Liga matches in the background. I learned the jargon and the songs and the inside jokes and got the latest transfer news and gossip straight from the most unlikely sources. I could probably write a dissertation on all the ridiculous, silly, hilarious, and juicy things I have done/found out all for the love of Football. But, perhaps those should be discussed in another blog post altogether.

P.S. Here is a sample, if you’re interested.

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MotoGP

MotoGP and I didn’t start off so well. While I’ve already loved F1 for many years, back then, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would choose to watch motorcycle racing over car racing. Oh, and MotoGP schedules at times interfered with my Football matches back then, which annoyed me. But then one day I watched an ESPN Sports Center special where they talked about this up and coming Spanish racer called Dani Pedrosa, and I got curious enough to check out one of his 250cc races. The rest, is history. I was converted. I finally got what the fuss was all about. I knew Valentino Rossi was the main man but I didn’t care. Dani Pedrosa became THE rider for me. He had that intangible something that spoke to me. The lean angles, the engine debates, the constant tussling, the tire wars, the rider rivalries–I relished them all. There’s hardly any boring or unremarkable MotoGP races, and that says something about the quality of its talents. There’s a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that goes, ‘There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice’. I’m so glad I opened my mind enough for me to realize that my heart is capable of loving more than one racing series.

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Formula 1

If you’re not new to this blog and/or you follow me on Twitter, then you most probably already know that it’s Michael Schumacher and the scaled model of his 1994 Benetton car that got me into F1. F1 is THE racing series for me. My love for it is at times beyond explanation. I’m fascinated with the cars and the science and the technology and the ingenuity and the characters and the history and the glamor and the grit involved. It is the sport that made me throw caution into the wind and got me to travel alone. I drained my bank account when I was new to the workforce just to see my first F1 race back in 2009. I had to hold back tears the moment I first heard the roar of an F1 engine in person. I have often waxed poetic about F1 in this blog, and briefly touched on how it has helped me cope throughout the years. Not a day goes by without me thinking about returning to the race track so I can add more items and anecdotes to my list of ridiculous/hilarious/awesome experiences during a race weekend. I am not blind to its faults and shortcomings, there have been plenty of times where it has disappointed me and pissed me off beyond belief, and yet I keep coming back to it. I will defend Michael Schumacher until my dying breath. He is my all-time favorite and always will be. One of the best memories of my fangirl life is finally getting to meet Schumi in person. I bleed the red of Ferrari and legitimately shed tears when I saw a Ferrari double podium in the flesh during the 2015 F1 Night Race. I know far too much about F1 for my own good and yet I still feel as if I have barely scratched its surface. F1 has enabled me to meet many wonderful people and has given me opportunities and experiences that I will always hold dear to my heart. Is it any wonder that twenty-four years later, I still love it with the intensity of a hundred suns?

The car and the driver that started it all…

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I can honestly go on and on for much longer.

I don’t necessarily want to be the people I watch; I just find pleasure, escape, and I suppose a form of therapy and catharsis in being a spectator. For a certain period of time, “real life” is suspended and you get to be in a world within another world where you don’t have to be or do anything but watch, and yet, you are somehow included in an extraordinary communal experience that sometimes defies explanation.

All the times I have cried due to sports–whether out of agony or euphoria–I can still very clearly remember. The times I have bargained and prayed to the universe and all entities that will listen–hilarious in retrospect but no doubt will happen again. And again. It’s astounding to find out the spectrum of emotions you can go through in such a short amount of time. My empathy and sympathy levels have been vastly improved because of sports. Sports teach you how to win, how to lose, and how to be…human.

I could have had a different life had I not fallen in love with sports. I could have been…something. I could have become someone else.

But, sports have given me far, far more than it has taken away. And for that, I am grateful.

Regrets? None. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Now, excuse me while I go find a sport to watch on TV…

“Freefall”

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It’s been a while since I’ve last written about Football. And while this isn’t exactly about Football, a huge part of its raison d’être is due to this seemingly innocuous tweet:

Andres Iniesta–Spain and Barcelona player–is one of my all-time favorite footballers, and when someone of his caliber gives us a glimpse of the workings of his genius mind, then you’d better pay attention.

Please read the above article in full. It is worth it, I promise you.

I never expected to be so affected by its content; I thought I would just get to learn something new from a great footballer,  but I was in tears before I was halfway through the article.

Iniesta has managed to succinctly express what a lot of people are suffering from; what I often feel, in fact.

“Not depression exactly, not illness either, not really, but an unease,”
“It was like nothing was right.”

He needed help; he talks about being “on edge”, “vulnerable”, “victim of something that terrified me”.

Iniesta says he had felt as if he was in “freefall”.

The moment I saw that word was the moment I started to cry.

Have you ever had that moment when an epiphany hits you like a ton of bricks? That was one for me. A single word that encapsulated how I feel.

Freefall. We all experience that internally at some point in our lives. We exist, we function, we feel, we socialize, but nothing ever feels right. We question others, we question ourselves, we question our worth, and before we know it, repeated overthinking and overfeeling becomes a perverse game we reluctantly, but regularly play.

“I know what’s it like, Andres. I know what it’s like.” My mind concurred as I continued to read the article.

Some would choose to easily dismiss these revelations and focus on the fact that he’s a world-famous footballer with enormous wealth and a myriad of honors. Depression and anxiety do not care who you are or how much you earn. He is human, just like the rest of us, and no amount of money or trophies can be a panacea for a broken or hurting psyche.

Imagine if Iniesta hadn’t done something about his struggle. The World Cup 2010 Final and the whole history of Football would have been extremely different. But he did overcome the darkness, and now that he has spoken up about it, perhaps many more others will be inspired to win their battles, too.

I never thought I could admire Iniesta more, but somehow, I have a newfound respect for him.

There are good days, bad days, and unmemorable in-between days, but every day teaches me something. I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care and self-love.

If you, in any way, have been affected by this: Talk to family. Talk to friends. Consult a professional, if need be. Find an outlet. Do things that make you feel alive and happy. Prioritize yourself: The people who love you the most want you to love yourself. Take it one day at a time. Life can be terrible and difficult but it is also wonderful and extraordinary. You are going to be all right. Breathe.

Gravity is not so bad. It’s better to hit the bottom and feel the full impact rather than remain in a constant, endless state of freefall.

Only you can save yourself. You lead life; it does not lead you.

Go and have your Iniesta World Cup Moment. I am rooting for you.

V-Powered.

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V is the Roman Numeral equivalent for 5. Last month, I was informed by WordPress that I have been a blogger for officially five years now. Five! That’s half a decade! Where has the time gone?

V stands for Verbosity: Brevity is something I often struggle with, but by now I have embraced verbosity like a long-lost friend. Why keep things short when it’s so much more fun to play with words and experiment with different ways of storytelling?

V is for Verve: I do not do things halfway. When I love, I love hard. And I hope that most (if not all) of my posts reflect that.

I started this blog simply as a repository for all my Football- and Racing-related thoughts. Oh, and of course to share my love for them (in all their strange/curious glory). Most of the blogs that I’ve browsed during the time I started ranged from trying-too-hard-to-be-professional-journalists to hardcore-fangirling-which-is-bordering-on-being-cringeworthy. I just wanted to keep it real, be myself, make people smile and maybe even possibly say, “Yes, that’s what I think, too!” As someone who lives too much inside her head with a galaxy of thoughts and constantly gets ideas faster than the speed of light, I thought it would be rather therapeutic (albeit a bit risky) to keep a public record of them.

Who knew such a random decision would turn out to be so…serendipitous?

I never realized just how much the blog was going to grow; how many countries my posts were going to reach; and how many people my writing was going to inspire/help/touch/affect.

With this blog, I’ve met so many amazing people, I’ve learned so much and most important, I’ve shared parts of myself that I didn’t even know I could.

Yes, there were a few times when I went all dramatic/existential crisis-esque and wondered, “Why am I still doing this? What is the point, even?” and considered packing it all up and closing the blog, but whenever I see the small, but loyal readers that keep coming back, I realize that this little blog do matter for a select audience, and for that, I am Very grateful.

So thank you. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog and to read this post (and possibly some of my other posts, too). I can not give you back the time you’ve lost for it, but hey, I’ll wish good karma and bouncebackability for you instead, how about that?

Kidding aside, your support (no matter how small) has been invaluable. It is enriching and humbling at the same time.

The five years went by in a blink of an eye. It really is true that time flies when you’re having fun.

There is still so much ahead, not just for me but for all of us; because you are part of this, too. “Possibilities” is such a wonderful word, isn’t it? So hold on tight, this wonderful journey is far from over yet.

And if you’re thinking of starting your own blog based on your personal passions? Go on and do it. You shall grow and evolve in ways you can never imagine. Trust me.

The Iker Casillas Saga: When Parting Is Not Sweet Sorrow.

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Iker Casillas has left the building.

The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, that is.

It was one of the longest drawn-out goodbyes/breakups in recent football history.  And boy, was it messy. Predictably, a sizeable amount of Real Madrid fans are still on meltdown mode.

I am not a Real Madrid supporter. I do, however, admire and dare I say it, love some of their past and current players. They are a very interesting team to watch, and they are probably the biggest Reality Show in Football (N.B. There also have been comparisons made with Game of Thrones, and really, they are not far wrong).

I have expected Iker’s departure for months now; the only question was to which club he will end up in. The Arsenal rumours were there for a long time, until they managed to snag Petr Cech from Chelsea which effectively put them out of the running. Roma, Fenerbache and a few other clubs were tossed around, but none of those apparently made the grade. Then came Porto.

It’s almost a strange joke by destiny; Iker ending up with the Portuguese club that is so strongly linked with Jose Mourinho—the Special One, a.k.a that Manager he famously fell out with during his tenure at Real Madrid (and possibly, that became the tipping point of everything). Not quite a few scratched their heads at this. Porto? The Portuguese League? Iker Casillas is a World Cup/2x European Champion for Spain and has had more than his fair share of titles and cups with Real Madrid. So how come no bigger club has taken an interest in him?

How did it all come to this?

One side of it is, Iker—nay, San Iker—wants us to believe that he has been unceremoniously pushed out from the beloved club he has dutifully served for 25 years. He was cheated financially, bullied, and pressured from all sides. The president and the board has allegedly mounted a multi-season smear campaign against him and despite his repeated wishes to stay on and fight for a place in the starting lineup, he was simply not wanted anymore. The now-infamous interview of his parents in El Mundo revealed juicy details that make up wet dreams of British tabloids.

(Sidebar: What bothered me most about that El Mundo interview was the bit where it was revealed that Iker has been estranged from his family for years now due to monetary/personal reasons. How come this hasn’t been picked up by the press sooner? Or perhaps I just missed it somehow?)

Conversely, the club wants us to believe that the Saint the public adores is not really a Saint but just a regular, even greedy footballer that got too big for his boots and tried to take on a club that has nurtured him for most of his career. The nerve! He was good, became a great and then throughout time, somehow turned …toxic. He leaked secrets, pushed out a manager and fellow players, and slowly became a symbol of division.   

There are three sides to this story: Iker’s, the Club’s and the Truth. Sadly, it seems we will never truly know the real score.

To quote Cersei Lannister-Baratheon, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Perhaps Iker should have demanded Trial by Combat instead, because he sure got mercilessly battered and lost the Public Trial that ensued.

Tears were unabashedly shed by Iker as he read his farewell statement—alone, and the event was simply attended by photographers and journalists. Not the ideal sendoff befitting a player of his caliber. Predictably, backlash ensued not just from the RM fans but from football fans in general, and so a “proper” farewell was arranged by having him stand in the middle of the Bernabeu pitch with the trophies he has won and letting fans inside the stadium for him to say adios to. Let us not forget the mini testimonial, and then photo calls with the President, holding his “Legacy Shirt” and being forced to put on smiles as though he means them.

It was a ridiculous and insulting charade and we all know it.

Perhaps Iker can take comfort from the fact that this was not the first time this has happened to a football player, and this will certainly not be the last.

Screw or be screwed. Sad, but this sums up the business of Football in this age.

Can time really heal all wounds? We shall see.

At the back of my mind, I think there will come a time when Iker will return to the Bernabeu; he will don the club shirt yet again and maybe play in one of the Corazon Charity Matches with his former colleagues. He will be glad to be back and put the ghosts of the past behind him, but for now, he needs to live with the choices he has made and start over.

Meanwhile, the fans can busy themselves expressing all their hatred and obscenities at Perez, but in the end, they will still buy their match tickets and the replica shirts of the new players. They will fill the stadium and resume singing the club songs. They will make new legends of fresh, unsuspecting players. They will perhaps remember Iker in passing and think, “He was good, and he was one of us.”

And life in the Santiago Bernabeu will go on.

 

Disappointment.

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It’s one of the worst feelings, ever.

You wanted it so much for that person/team that you almost feel as if you are them.
It’s their shot at history, to be recognized not just as a simple ‘good’, but as a great.

The gravity of it is so enormous, you’re not quite sure how to process it.

You await the match/game/race with equal parts excitement and consternation. Watching it is almost an out-of-body experience. Every second feels like an eternity. Every chance, a link in the chain that can cause a life-changing moment.

You smile. You laugh sarcastically. You roll your eyes. You cuss. You judge.

“You should have done this!”
“You should have went after that!”
“What’s happening to you?!”

You feel parts of your body aching that you never knew could feel pain so much.

You pray. You’re desperate. A miracle would be welcome. Yet, it doesn’t arrive.
You stare at the result in disbelief. You wait for it to sink in. You may even cry a tear or two. You curse and ask what you (or better, them) have done to deserve this misfortune. You want numbness to just overcome your very being.

You wish you didn’t care this damn much.

You take a deep breath. Retreat into your safe cave. Sleep it off.

And tomorrow, you will attempt to move on with your life.

The Mystery of (Sporting) Love.

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Why do we love who we love? Why do we allow ourselves to be subjected to the madness and agony of one-sided, unrequited love? Is the need to vicariously put our hopes and dreams on an individual or a team brain-based, or must we always blame it on the sentimentality of our hearts?

It’s a funny thing, sporting love. Some find it instantaneously/spontaneously, while for some, it is a slow burn. It’s a mixture of both for me. Never the same love twice, and all that. Having favourites is fun. And when your favourites end up as your sporting HGs, then it gets even better. What I do have to point out though, is that it is never about popularity nor notoriety for me. I was not, and will never be, a bandwagoner. Sure, the history aspect plays a part, but it is not necessarily a dealmaker nor a dealbreaker. The sportspersons/teams/clubs I support and unashamedly profess my love for are an interesting mixture of legends, legends-in-the-making, underdogs, the criminally-underrated, and yes, even some overrated ones.

Call it what you want–the X Factor, the spark, charisma, je ne sais quoi, star quality–I personally prefer the term “magic”. Yes, that’s what I saw in them all. Magic. That’s what got me hooked. It’s not the looks or the stats or the hype. It’s that special alchemy of terrific talent and human flaws that compel me to genuinely care.  Because really, what is the point of getting emotionally-invested to the point of absurdity if they are nothing short of magical to you?

Are they worth the effort/time/trouble? Sometimes no, but more often than not, absolutely. Love is crazy, annoying, unpredictable, frustrating, exhilarating. It has the power to make you or break you. Would you have had it any other way? Hell no.

So never apologize for loving who (or what) you love in a sporting context. All feelings are valid, no matter how simple or monumental they may be. Ironically, it should not be a competition, either. How are we supposed to even accurately measure the depth, intensity, and legitimacy of one’s sporting love? Better to just accept that to each their own, no judgments.

Own it. Flaunt it. Celebrate it. And let everyone know how gloriously liberating true and sincere (sporting) love is.

Ride Or Die.

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For some reason, or strange divine machination, you found him. Or her. Or them. They had talent. And charisma. Je ne sais quois. That valuable, intangible something. And you were mesmerized, enthralled even.

You decide to support them. To profess a certain level of “love” for them. Come what may, you will be there for them, cheering, sending positive vibes from a thousand miles away and defending them from critics and naysayers.

Time passes.

What happens when your chosen one shows signs of weakness, of mortality?

They stopped winning after years of domination. Cheated on their partner. Left your beloved club/team. Transferred to a rival club/team that you absolutely despise. Media exposed a nasty habit/vice. Still haven’t won a title despite years of trying. Said the wrong thing on social media. It could be one big thing or a thousand, smaller things that piled up.

Disappointment consumes you. Heartbreak of epic proportions. You seriously question your devotion. Maybe you should move on. Maybe you have outgrown them. Maybe it is time to live in reality. Is this what falling out of love feels like?

You stop and think. You remember why you supported them in the first place. You smile. You feel like crying. There were good and bad times. But you wouldn’t trade all those memories for anything in the world. Abandoning them because of their faults won’t make them any lesser beings. It’s all on you.

In the end, you throw all caution to the wind. Get your shit together. You are not a fairweather fan. You are better than that. Who are you to judge? You are not perfect. You know the power of empathy. You chose to love your chosen ones with their weaknesses, not inspite of them.

Chosen ones are not meant to be flawless. Perfection is boring and overrated.

Chosen ones are meant to be fallible. Chosen ones are meant to be human.

Chosen ones are meant to be as real as they can be.

And somehow, even though some things may change, some things (and loves) in your heart will always remain the same.

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