All week I’ve been trying to avoid it, but I just can’t help watching the video of the little grey-and-white cat, now known as the Anfield Cat (the cat’s name is actually Shankly, apparently), trotting around on the pitch during last Monday’s Liverpool-Spurs game—a game that, disappointingly, featured little else in terms of substance. I keep watching the cat, I think, because he (or she?) offered a welcome interruption to this controversy-laden season, filled with racism charges, fraud allegations, and the unravelling of once-honored traditional rivalries.
Yes, it was just for a brief moment that the Anfield Cat reminded us all of the lighthearted, trivial, and universal aspects of football that make it so fun to watch and play, but this moment was special and, thanks to the internet, will be frozen in perpetuity. Maybe, somehow fittingly, it took a cat video (of all things) to provide this season’s bright spot, since nothing else seemed to be working (not even Wayne Rooney’s hair). Am I expected to get excited about the two Manchesters battling it out for the title? Or about Fabio Capello exiting so unceremoniously? Or about fans booing other fans booing players who made charges against other players who weren’t even that entertaining to begin with? Thanks, but no thanks.
And so this brings us back to the cat. The cat has something for everyone: humor, solidarity, empathy, brevity. The cat, by its very presence, registered a little blip on this season’s radar, a little asterisk, as if to say, remember when this used to be fun? One of my favorite parts of this episode is when the security officer finally nabs the frightened feline, to the audible delight of the Anfield crowd. Imagine—smiling at a football game!
It makes me almost overwhelmingly lugubrious to think that this kind of public enjoyment, a letting-down of our collective guard, is considered anachronistic, a quaint but silly notion reserved for some bygone era. Once the cat is gone, it’s back to “business as usual,” where there’s no time for fun and games.
Just as the mead-hall offered brief respite to the Venerable Bede’s hypothetical sparrow (“the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged…”), the Anfield Cat offered the FA a momentary shelter from the storm. But like the sparrow, the FA must return to the dark winter, and there’s still plenty of time for this season to get even more tempestuous than it has been already.