In 6th grade I was in love with Sarah Goldberg. I loved her smile, her eyes, her big 80s hair, and her acid-washed jeans. But Sarah Goldberg and I were not meant to be. She was a popular girl while I was a very unpopular boy. I can't stress this enough, 6th grade was miserable, even my best friends who were equally un-cool, abandoned me for greener and more poofy-pantsed pastures.
And yet, by some miracle of childhood ambition, I got to go on a date with Sarah Goldberg. To be honest, I don't really know how it happened. It was so unlikely that it's possible when I heard her say "yes" on the phone I may have passed out. Technically, I didn't actually hear her say "yes" because my friend Amit -- my erstwhile bestie who was making the grand leap forward into popularity -- made the call for me. It was going to be a double-date. Me and Sarah were going to go to the movies with Jane and my current best-friend Jai.
It was going to be great. I even wore my best Bill Cosby sweater. We went to see "Lambada: The Forbidden Dance" it was sexy and adult and Jai and I had lots of time to giggle nervously about it because we were sitting together. The arrangement, apparently, was that we would be allowed to go to the movies with the popular girls but Amit would have to come with us -- to translate from Geek perhaps -- and not only did he come with but he sat in between Me and Sarah Goldberg.
When the movie was over Jai and I scurried off to the bathroom to plan our next move. When we came back to the lobby the girls were gone, having been picked up Jane's father, whisked off to some deep nerd-cleanse I'm sure.
"Sorry," Amit said, "I guess they had to run."
"Whatever," I said, shrugging, "she didn't even wear a dress! What kind of girl doesn't wear a dress on a date?"
Sarah Goldberg broke my heart in the lobby of the Cedar Lane Cinemas and I responded by criticizing her sartorial choices.
I've been thinking a lot about what to write about Bale's departure. As a recent convert to football he was the first player I really knew on the team. Actually, to be fair, I knew Peter Crouch but only because I had watched him in the World Cup and laughed about how impossible he looked.
The very first time I saw Gareth Bale play was in an Arsenal Pub down the road from me. I had fallen in love with the game during the 2010 World Cup and, feeling a certain withdrawal, my friends invited me down to watch the Champions League over some beer and a burger. I didn't know what the Champions League was, or what in the world a Hotspur was, or where the San Siro was and why I should care. But there was this guy, running up the left wing, making the defender look foolish, scoring over and over again from improbable spots on the pitch.
Bale's hat-trick against Inter MIlan was one of many events that solidified my obsession with all things Tottenham Hotspur. By the time we were eliminated by Real Madrid in the 2010 Champions League I was a fan for life.
My first heartbreak came a few months later when we came up short for a return to the Champions League. We'll lose Modrić
I thought, we'll lose Van Der Vaart. The idea that Bale would go, literally never crossed my mind. He's Tottenham through and through, I thought.
That March Bale had signed a new 4 1/2 year contract, Fabio Capello hailed him as the best player in the world, and newspapers already touted him as the "next Ronaldo." But good old, big eared Gareth Bale was ours and ours only, and he wasn't going anywhere. When Modrić went on strike we knew Bale would never do a thing like that.
And yet the writing was on the wall.
As the 2011-2012 season imploded on us and Chelsea stormed to their absurd win in the Champions League and Modrić quietly cleared his throat, excused himself from the table and once again slammed the door shut on the Spurs, our little ol' Gareth was in the press saying he, too, might leave.
And still I didn't worry. Bale wasn't like Sarah Goldberg. Modrić and Van Der Vaart were the cool kids, Bale was a little kid, still clutching at Harry Redknapp's apron.
Here's the thing, though: We had turned on Bale that season. "He's too big for his britches!" "What's he doing on the right side?" "Why's he in the middle of the pitch?"
"Bale, he plays on the left" the faithful sang.
I'd like to think I was immune to this, that I saw in him what clearly he saw in himself but I wasn't. I'd slam my hands on the bar shouting "where's he going???" as Bale would careen into the middle clogging up the lines with Van Der Vaart seemingly lost for space. When we scored that season, it felt as though it happened when Bale would retreat to his old ways, take on the rightback and fire a cross into Adebayor.
That summer Modrić left, Van Der Vaart left, Harry left, and Bale had his ears surgically enhanced.
When the season started under AVB Bale entered the side a new man. Pundits joked about his "new look" but in truth, the lack of VDV and Modrić in the side allowed Bale the freedom to wander the middle of the pitch and attack with liberty. And it was glorious. We knew it, AVB knew it, the press knew it, and the world knew it:
Both on and off the pitch, Gareth Bale had become Sarah Goldberg.
And so it was written that he, too, would break our hearts.
Of course, the rest is history. Record breaking history.
Much has been written about how he handled the breakup, how he signed the extension only to turn his back on us. How he had professed love for AVB and Tottenham and, yet, when the popular kids from Spain came knocking he was ready to drop us in an instant. How he went on strike, just like Modrić did, and how he had left us for the dark side. How none of us would have done what he did.
All of that is, in a word, bullshit.
There's one reason and one reason only that Gareth Bale left us for Real Madrid: The World Cup.
Wales has qualified for the World Cup exactly one time in the history of the tournament. One time. In the story of this transfer window the quiet hero has been players' desires to get first team action against some of the best in the world. People that came in did so to play in the Premier League and be seen, those that left did so to feature for their sides so that they could be match-fit in time for international duty. Even if that meant eschewing North London for Seattle.
All except for Gareth Bale.
What must he feel as all his friends are gearing up to go to the biggest tournament in the world? What little part of him dies at the thought that had he been born 40 miles to the East he, too, would be cleaning his shin guards, and ironing his fauxhawk in preparation for the glorious party that is the World Cup?
After Sarah Goldberg ditched me at the movie theater, I moved on. I fell in love with lots of other girls and eventually other women, and if I hadn't had a pot-belly, bad glasses, and a terrible wardrobe in 6th grade I probably would have gone out and dated the cutest girl I could find and paraded her in front of Sarah Goldberg.
You see, Gareth Bale isn't Sarah Goldberg. Gareth Bale is us. The rest of the world is about to leave him behind, in his brand new apartment on a bed of money, but alone while his friends get to play ball. And so he's parading the next best thing, his brand new girlfriend, Real Madrid.
He won't know that glory of Brazil 2014 so, instead, he'll get the glory of the Santiago Bernabéu. He won't get the camaraderie and fun of international duty, so instead he'll get proximity to the best in the world. And he won't ever, not ever, get to ride through the center of Cardiff on a bus surrounded by celebrating supporters returning victorious from nearly ANYTHING. And so, instead, he'll settle for the closest possible thing to that: money, lots of money, and Real Madrid.
Which leaves us. What are we to do?
We are to salute him, wish him well, cheer on the seven (SEVEN!) players we bought thanks to his record breaking sale, and support our side -- potentially the best side I have ever watched play for Tottenham.
That and quietly watch every Clásico and cheer for Barcelona. Obviously.
P.S. There's a pretty large part of me that believes that he re-upped his contract with Tottenham so that we could wring the most money possible from whatever deal would be "tearing him away,"but that's neither here nor there.