How many great love affairs begin with a hangover? I'm not talking, here, about those glamorous post-coital hangovers of cinema yore, with thin cigarettes in bed and doe-eyed muses lounging in standalone marble baths, dopy jazz horns and silk curtains swaying in the breeze as an English spy or a French outlaw or an American millionaire returns himself, after a shag and a night's rest, to a state of serene sociopathy, towelling away the last of the shaving foam, quipping through the cufflink fiddle, checking the turtle-neck fold in the gilded sunburst mirror.
I'm talking about the kind of hangovers that you and I know far better, the ones that begin with you washed up on the distant desert island shore of some stranger's mattress, folded into the foetal position like an accordion full of piss, phone dead, eyes hollowed out, grey city noon snarling past the window restrictors halfway up the high-rise. Not all great love affairs begin like this, granted. But you can generally tell how things might go, how the future might look, when for the first time you are forced to navigate the rubble of the night before with someone you’ve never seen in the daytime. Did their gallows humour survive the night? Will they offer you the clean towel? Are they for some reason totally avoiding eye contact? How do they like their egg?
There comes a point in every relationship where the forced civility and fussy opening dances can be packed away, in their place arriving the easy, tender mercy that any romance needs if it is to last. These days it can be tough, though, to know how to kick things on from there. Grand gestures are expensive and kids are for grown-ups. Weddings are a faff, houses are out of reach and your flat share is cramped enough as it is. So – in a modern, millennial world with all the old milestones sucked out – you start looking for smaller and more subtle breakthroughs by which to measure the life you are attempting to build together.
Things like knowing the passcode on your boyfriend's phone. Or him knowing the passcode on your phone but you not changing it. Going to doctor's appointments together. Booking each other's doctor's appointments. Maintaining a rolling list of birthday present ideas rather than panic-buying everything from a supermarket the day before. Remembering the names of her workmates. Going out for solo pints with his workmates' girlfriends. Buying her a towel. Perfecting his egg. And, before you know it, suddenly arriving at the point where it's totally fine to spend Saturday side-by-side in bed, squinting through a shared hangover on that same mattress you once washed up on – only it's cleaner now, and the sheet actually fits – at Reddit Soccer Streams. If you're looking for signs that your love is built to survive the winter, this – surely – is a decent one.
It's strange how quickly things can become fixtures in your life. The Soccer Streams subreddit was founded four years ago but has only really risen to prominence over the last couple of seasons, as the links it has offered to mostly North American cable coverage of every conceivable game started to emerge as the most reliable you could track down anywhere. Quickly, it became the go-to destination for free, live, technically illegal, broadcaster rights-trampling football across the globe.
Over that time, Soccer Streams devotees will have become intimately acquainted with its rhythms and tics. The weird dislocating effect of having an otherwise all-British cast of commentators, co-hosts, anchors and pundits interrupted by some jarring wildcard Yank talking a little too intensely about historical interception stats and first-half passing lanes. The strange segues where Robbie Earle would suddenly start discussing basketball for five minutes. Robbie Mustoe, savaging the Arsenal defence yet again with the deranged fervour of a disgraced Tennessee preacher. The saccharine American adverts for life insurance and dog food that show you there is, of course, a risk of over-sentimentalising Soccer Streams now that it has been earmarked for extermination after amassing 425,000 subscribers and becoming just too gigantically illegal for Reddit to ignore.
There was an outpouring of genuine sadness last week when the news came that the site's overlords could no longer pretend they weren't aware of the monolithic rights-pyre burning in their back garden. Of course, no one will mourn the cacophony of pop-ups, the 500 frantically aborted MacKeeper downloads. Nor should there ever be any tears for the freezes and crashes that are an unavoidable part of the experience but still taunt a hangover as though it were a dancing bear, cruel stoppages that occasionally catch you at a moment of real psychic vulnerability, setting in train a root-and-branch interrogation of your life and how it led to you hurling abuse at some tiny red Xs on a laptop monitor while all the normal people are out in the sunshine eating ice-cream.
While we're on the subject of torture, it’s probably necessary to address the Soccer Streams chat box, a truly bewildering outpost of the digital world that acts as a kind of septic tank for modern life, a place that allows strangers to gather together to hurl all the worst kinds of abuse at each other in an arena that guarantees total anonymity. Using temporary logins to hammer out insults that barely last a split-second on the page before they’re rushed off it by the sheer volume of replies, the chat box of any illegal football stream is more-or-less nailed on to be a dank underworld populated by vicious freaks all seeking the same kind of fleeting, sadomasochistic encounter, like Eyes Wide Shut if you replaced the sex with relentless racism. Unless it’s physically impossible to do so, it usually pays to close the chat window as quickly as possible. While acknowledging that sitting in bed watching football matches with someone you love can be a good way to take the edge off a prangover and deepen bonds of intimacy, there's nothing romantic about the words "GOAT fag" popping up over and over again while you desperately try to reload the Barcelona-Getafe match.
For all the residual evils, it's not hard to understand the rush to eulogise Soccer Streams. There was something reassuring about being able to fumble your way to the same dependable resource every lonely midweek evening or lazy Sunday afternoon, knowing that what you wanted to find would be there waiting for you. The warmth for the site likely also speaks to something deeper, the sense that life was meant to turn out better than this for a generation of 20 and 30-somethings who came of age before the years began to pass like one long, unbroken scream, calmed briefly by the familiar glare of an internet forum serving up hooky links to football matches you’d happily pay for if only you could afford BT Sport and a decent TV. The act of streaming football illegally often feels like a tacit admission that life is different now, that expectations have shifted. Today, we are as far away from "Sweet Like Chocolate" as Tony Blair’s landslide victory was from Saturday Night Fever, and the kind of widespread social optimism you get when houses, weddings and kids are all viable options generally seems like a distant dream.
So, in this context, yeah, why not? Why not lionise the webpage? Why not mourn it. These days, freebies are rare, sanctuaries are rarer and nostalgia comes at you fast.