Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. — Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”
Tottenham won today, beating Stoke with a last minute goal by the guy who has carried them over the last few weeks, former Arsenal player Emmanuel Adebayor. In another part of England, as I write this, Norwich are running away with their game 4-0 winners, Southampton and Sunderland are heaping pressure on Wigan with a close-fought 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light, and Newcastle is trying to perform a miracle escape from relegation by beating QPR 2-1 despite having their starting keeper sent off. All of which is being overseen by Zeus, sat upon his throne at Mt. Traffrord, a special, red, Chevy bucket seat, chewing gum, and ready to cast lightning bolts down upon his players if they ruin his big day.
All in all, it’s been a terrible day for Wigan. Much like Sisyphus, they had just pushed the boulder to the top of the hill by beating giants Man City in the FA Cup yesterday, and today they had to stand there and watch as Newcastle, Sunderland, and Norwich kicked the boulder back down to the plains below. As Camus would rightly point out, this is the moment in our absurd narrative where Wigan walks back down the hill toward the rock, contemplating their fate all the way, smiles that they have beaten the gods and resigned themselves too their absurd and pointless task, and simply grasps that boulder in both hands and begins the long push back up the hill.
That boulder is Arsenal on Tuesday.
Wigan won the FA Cup head to toe, by which I mean both that the toe of keeper Joel Robles saved a goal by Carlos Tevez and the head of late substitute Ben Watson scored the only goal of the game. But I also mean that Wigan played that match with every inch of their bodies, not a single minute went by that Wigan let their foot, heads, or torsos off the gas pedal. Which is how you have to do it if you’re a team from a town of 80,000 people with a turnover of just £50m facing an opposition team who spend that amount on just one player.
They have stuck around in London for Tuesday’s match, against another of the big teams who have annual revenue around 5x that of Wigan and they will be looking to get that boulder back to the top of the mountain again.
People complain that fourth place isn’t a trophy but then those same people will say that Tuesdays game will be “like a cup final”. The reality is that for both Wigan and Arsenal, a loss in Tuesday’s match means almost certain relegation and a resultant massive financial hit. For Wigan, relegation from the Premier League this season means that they would lose out on the windfall new television contract. And when you consider how reliant they are on television money (in 2009/2010 £38m of their £43m budget came from TV revenue or as Swiss Ramble put it “They have the lowest revenue in the top tier, just about the smallest crowds, the highest reliance on television money, one of the highest wages to turnover ratios and no cash.”) that means relegation from the Premier League is financially devastating. It might even prove the end of Wigan.
Arsenal are in a similar situation, as a completely self-sustaining club they rely on Champions League money and there is a huge fear among many Arsenal fans that if they were to finish outside of the Champions League places that the club would instill austerity measures and buckle down on the cash reserves that they have socked away for just this type of rainy day scenario.
So, while I understand that finishing fourth again for Arsenal fans doesn’t seem to have the glory of winning a trophy, for both club’s management and for most of both team’s supporters “staying up” is a trophy of sorts. And both teams are going to play with the fire of a cup final — at least we hope.
But if the task for both teams is Sisyphian, the analogy breaks down a bit in that in the myth Sisyphus never loses. He always completes his task. And unlike Sisyphus one (or both) of the two teams on Tuesday will lose.
After which they will turn around, see the boulder on the plains below them and begin the long, slow, contemplative march back to their never-ending task.