I read about the riots in London over the past few days, and I felt entirely removed from them. Yes, it looked pretty bad, but there was no connection for me to make. I was a little bit worried about Kirsten, but she kept tweeting away, so I assumed all was well. Things seemed to turn for the worse last night, however. The reports and tweets coming out of London were nothing short of terrifying. And again, aside from Kirsten, I felt like there was no connection there. I read the news, and it had almost no emotional impact. (Kirsten is fine, by the way.)
But then rumors began to flow that Birmingham was embroiled in riots as well. Somehow I found this tumblr that had my rapt attention all night. What had been a scary but impersonal story suddenly became something about which I cared a great deal. The only city with which I have any connection in England was suddenly something akin to a zone of anarchy. Fires, looting, and rumors that the bull had lost its head shocked me. Before last night I didn't even know what the Bullring was, and yet an image (that turned out to be photoshopped) or the bull without its head made me profoundly sad.
Why is it that events in London had no impact on me and those in Birmingham made me nearly sick to my stomach? I've been to London twice, and loved my every minute there, whereas I've never seen Birmingham. Well, it all comes back to a soccer team. Last year, I decided I would follow Aston Villa. And in the past 12 or so months, I've developed a deep affinity for anything associated with the club, and that includes the city it calls home. I follow people who live in the West Midlands, we've made connections and friendships with those people primarily through this site. Birmingham has become, in an odd sort of way, my adopted English hometown.
It's not much, and I can't really do anything from here, but the fact that I can empathize with those an ocean away should speak to the power of sport in bringing people together. Sure, this isn't much. It's hard to see any of the images and not feel empathy, but a deeper connection is something to be valued. It's a big world, and it's often very hard to understand others who live in it. If it takes something as silly as athletics to begin breaking down those barriers, I'm all for it. This would have been nothing more than another news story for me had it not been for Aston Villa. Chances are, I wouldn't have even known that anything happened in Birmingham. All of the media focus is on London. But I do know, and it feels personal.
And I know that what I felt cannot be anything near the fear and rage felt by those of you who actually live in the area. However, I think it's safe for me to speak for everyone on the site when I say that you, Birmingham, and everyone affected by these riots are in our thoughts. Please, be safe. And remember, amidst the anger and violence, there are people who truly aren't half bad. Mere hours after the shocking scenes of last night, we get pictures like this one, and it gives me a little bit of hope.