Last night I read Ray Bradbury’s short story The Last Night of the World to my daughter. It’s a story about people’s reaction to the foreknowledge that the world is going to end. Every adult on the planet is visited in a dream and a voice tells them that October 19th, 1969 is the last night of the world. The adults share the dream with each other and conclude that this must be true. And they finish their last night on earth doing the things they have always done, cleaning the dishes, tucking the children in to bed, before lying down for their last sleep.
My daughter said she hated the story. “Because it’s the last night on earth. They didn’t do anything! I would want to have the most fun ever.” Her eyes are a little red, she’s holding back a tear.
“What would you do?” I ask.
“I don’t know! But something fun.”
I don’t have the heart to tell her what I’m thinking. That this could be the last night. That we are fragile creatures. That an earthquake could take us all at any minute, without warning. But I do tell her, “well, I wouldn’t do anything but this.” And then I kissed her little forehead and hugged her.
Perhaps it’s easy for me to say that, to resign myself to the inevitable. I’m old. I’ve had a lot of fun. She’s right to say that she doesn’t even know what fun she would have, because there is so much left for her to do. I remember being her age. I remember thinking that the point of life was to get the last drop of chocolate out of every cup of hot chocolate.
I also know what it’s like to wish for more. I can imagine Arsenal as Barcelona just for a day. Down four goals in the first leg of a Champions League tie they score three in the second leg making it 3-4 on aggregate. I was in the stands when Arsenal did this once against AC Milan. Every cell in my body seemed to be vibrating at a higher frequency. I remember turning to the people sitting next to me at half time, my eyes wild, and declaring definitively that Arsenal were going through.
In the second half we had our moment. Gervinho was played in, took a shot which the keeper couldn’t hold on to and which fell to van Persie. We were all on our feet. Holding our breath. This was our moment. And van Persie chipped the ball but the keeper stopped the shot. The breath we collectively let out at that moment could power the Black Forest.
Barcelona last night had an even more terrible moment. PSG’s Edinson Cavani, who like Giroud only scores goals of eye watering beauty, had blown several clear cut chances in this match but when a ball was pinged around inside the box and came flying at him, he struck that volley with the outside of his right foot and scored a vital away goal. Barcelona no longer needed to score 4 goals to get back into the game, they needed 6. They needed three goals in the last half an hour, actually.
And as is the case in these situations, the fans in the stands were numb. The stadium went quiet. Barcelona spent the next 20 minutes going through the motions.
But Neymar struck a free kick for a goal, leaving Trapp rooted to his spot. It was that moment which turned the game. Trapp’s indecision belied a weakness in PSG. This was a match they could have and should have won easily. Angel di Maria, the architect behind the first leg’s 4-0 win, was played clean through with a 1-v-1 with the keeper and yet his shot was either tackled away by Javier Mascherano or he simply kicked the dirt when he meant to chip the ball.
Barcelona were then awarded a penalty. “Awarded” seems generous here. Luis Suarez went to ground on the slightest contact, holding first his head, and then his neck, pretending that he had been garotted by PSG’s defender Marquinhos. Imagine Arsenal being Barcelona for a day: at Camp Nou they were awarded two penalties. One for a defender slipping over and then Neymar intentionally running into his tumbling body and the other for Luis Suarez doing his Sgt. Elias death scene dive.
Instead, the very night before that famous Barcelona match Arsenal also needed four goals to advance. After going up 1-0, the exact same situation as Barcelona, had what looked to be a clear penalty on Theo Walcott denied. Instead of the defender falling to the ground and Neymar intentionally tripping over him, Walcott had his legs taken by Xabi Alonso. There was a hint that Xabi won the ball, but certainly no benefit of the doubt was afforded Walcott.
And then as if the football gods needed to prove a point, in the 52nd minute Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny was given a red card when Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski shoved off of him and flopped to the ground. Earning a penalty and killing Arsenal’s chances of getting a result.
In the Barcelona match there were numerous examples of PSG getting “fouled” at least as hard as Lewandowski. There was the challenge by Mascherano on di Maria for example, but Barcelona didn’t get punished, Arsenal did and down a man Arsenal went on to get picked apart, losing 5-1 on the night and 10-2 on aggregate.
I can imagine what it would be like if Arsenal were Barcelona for one night. I can imagine my team getting the benefit of four or five big refereeing decisions in a Champions League match against another big club. I just think that the world will probably, suddenly, and inexplicably come to an end before that ever happens.